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Highlighting Hypocrisy and Lambasting Illogic: Using letters to the editor to various newspapers, this economics professor--in the Austrian School of economics--slices and dices claims made in those news organs.

Hypocrites & Half-wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity From Cafe Hayek, by Donald J. Boudreaux, Erie, Pennsylvania: Free to Choose Press, 2012, 230 pages, hardcover.

It seems a safe bet that no mere pundit will ever be nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Pundits have in common the one thing that has disqualified nominees to the high court in the past couple of decades. They have what is called a "paper trail" of their writings for newspaper columns and/or musings on TV talk shows, easily recoverable through the magic of videotape.

One of the best at the game of "catch them in their contradictions" is Donald J. Boudreaux, a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He is also a prolific and highly disciplined newspaper reader and letter writer. A devotee of the Austrian School of economics and a disciple of the late Friedrich Hayek. Boudreaux makes a point of writing at least one letter to the editor every day, and his letters, as well as his longer articles, have been published in the New York Times, the Mill Street Journal, the Washington Post, and an undetermined number of local, state, and regional publications. Indeed, few journals, large or small, have escaped his eagle-eyed attention. His radar screen picks up all types of false statements and unwise and inconsistent policy pronouncements, North and South. East and West.

The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire, for example, does not circulate anywhere near Fairfax, except in cyberspace, where Professor Boudreaux no doubt encountered a Monitor editorial calling for an end to bottled water because the empty bottles were taking up too much space in landfills. So the Monitor editors thought, anyway, until Professor Boudreaux took them to school by offering to try his hand at "such arrogance" as was expressed in the offending editorial.

"Habitual reading of newspapers is a waste of money," Boudreaux wrote. "Newspapers are a source of landfill waste. Millions of tons of newsprint are dumped into landfills every day. And producing these inky pages also wastes fuel--fuel used to power paper mills, printing presses and delivery trucks. Oh, and what about trees?" In fewer than 200 words, the professor demonstrated the worth of the Concord Monitor editorial, one of many destined, fittingly enough, for a New Hampshire landfill.

In Hypocrites and Half-wits, Professor Boudreaux has assembled an impressive collection of his letters to the editor and has demonstrated how easy and enjoyable it is to punch large holes into economic and political theories spun mostly in the air between the steeple and the ozone layer by people taken as experts for all of their airy pronouncements. Take for example Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times, a columnist who two or three times a week scolds the political class for its "obsession with austerity." But deflating austerity and minimizing the importance of budget deficits are a fairly new obsession for Krugman, as Boudreaux demonstrates.

  In 2005. when Mr. Krugman insisted that governments deficit
  was "indeed a major problem," that deficit was 2.5 percent
  of GDP. Today, when Mr. Krugman is no longer concerned about
  the budget deficit, that deficit will he about 11 percent
  of GDP. Hmmmm ...

Gosh, the erudite New York Times columnist is highly partisan, finding deficits troubling in a Republican administration, but not with a Democrat in the White House. How strange.

Well, speaking of partisanship, the Congress errs most consistently when practicing bipartisanship. And what could be more commanding of bipartisan support than the minimum wage? So leave it to Professor Boudreaux to discover the blatant inconsistency in Sen. Sherrod Brown's zeal for an increase in the minimum wage at the same time the Ohio Democrat was advertising for interns to work in his Semite office at no pay, just to gain the valuable experience. Having someone work for you for no pay is patriotic and civic-minded. Paying someone a nickel less than the federally mandated minimum wage, however, can bring you to the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor and get you a substantial fine for violation of U.S. law. Another example of a high government official saying, "Don't do as we do, do as we say."

Whoever said economics is "the dismal science" should read this book and get acquainted with Professor Boudreaux. The laws of economics are the means by which he checks the erroneous assumptions of liberals and conservatives alike. The author shows why it is nonsense to believe that absent federal subsidies, no low-income housing would be built or that without federal laws to protect the endangered species, they would all have long since vanished. The law of supply and demand has been suspended in the minds of presidents and members of Congress.

Boudreaux is a defender of not only economic freedom, but he speaks up for the freedom of speech and the press as well, rebutting the arguments of those who want a return to the Federal Communications Commission's "Fairness Doctrine," requiring broadcasters to make time available free of charge for people to rebut the arguments of others who have paid for their time. And he shows a libertarian's understanding of the connection between the welfare state and the warfare state. The architect of the modern welfare state was Otto von Bismark, the Prussian ruler who believed that a citizenry dependent on the bounty of the nation-state would be willing to provide their sons as fodder for Bismark's wars. In our time, we have seen President George W. Bush promote a prescription drug benefit, worth hundreds of billions, while also launching a war with popular support and no factual basis to justify it.

Boudreaux has read well the tendencies of the welfare/warfare state and the "progressive movement" that spawned it. Its motto, as expressed by an American admirer of the German system. is that "the individual exists for the state, not the state for the individual." That is why some still think it is honorable and just for the state to conscript young men into military service.

At times, it is difficult to determine who are the hypocrites and who are merely half-witted, Boudreaux cites the example of a woman in Galveston, Texas, who was heard in a broadcast news report complaining that gas prices had jumped in anticipation of the disruptions of an approaching hurricane.

"It's ridiculous!" she protested. "Ike hadn't even hit yet." Yet she was not waiting for the hurricane to hit before she went out to top off her tank in anticipation of shorter supplies and higher prices to come. She was condemning the oil companies for responding to her own increased demand.

The minds of editorial writers also appear to be impervious to the law of supply and demand. Boudreaux takes on the writer of an editorial in the Baltimore Sun over that paper's assertion that the reason the diamondback terrapin is an endangered species is that "demand for them as food or pets has skyrocketed." Boudreaux wonders, then, why increased demand for chicken as food or Jack Russell terriers for pets has not caused those species to become endangered. The difference is that the breeding of the chickens and the terriers is rewarded by profits in the free market, while the terrapin are owned by the state. His explanation reminds one of the observation years ago that if communists ruled the Sahara Desert, within a few years there would be a shortage of sand.

Responding to a Washington Post editorial, Boudreaux takes on the assertion that the Tea Party suffers from a "fatuous infatuation" with the very wording of the Constitution, heedless of what more sophisticated Post readers know, that the Constitution is valuable "only because it has been wisely adapted to changing times. To adhere to the very word of its every clause hardly is respectful of the Founding Fathers."

So, asks Boudreaux, "if government officials and the courts are free to choose which words of the Constitution to 'adhere to' and which to ignore, what meaning does the Constitution really possess?"

The Constitution possesses such meaning as a free and honest people are willing to recognize. Hypocrites and half-wits are another story. And in this small but fascinating book, Boudreaux has told the story brilliantly. Whether the end is a sad or happy one is up to us. In the end it remains "We the People" who must decide.
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Author:Kenny, Jack
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 6, 2013
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