Mike Kueber's Blog

October 2, 2012

Sanday Book Review #85 – No, They Can’t by John Stossel

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:10 pm

I went through a liberal phase in my early 20s, during college and law school, and remember debating with classmates on the law-school quad whether Americans would be better served by socialism or capitalism.  My position was that socialism was ultimately a better (fairer) system, but first Americans needed to evolve to the point where greed was not an essential motivator.  Until that transformation occurred, I favored something I called enlightened capitalism.  (Although I felt like I had coined the term, I have learned since the advent of Google that virtually no thought is an original thought.) 

The term enlightened capitalism meant to me that America’s economy would operate most efficiently under capitalistic principles – such as the invisible hand – but that moral individuals should voluntarily reject some of those principles when their practice would result in harm or waste.  Examples of such practices might include unnecessary layoffs, misleading advertising, arbitrage, or day trading.  

Although I never totally abandoned the concept of enlightened capitalism, it has gradually faded from my politics to the point where I usually give a full-throated defense of pure capitalism.  But a couple of weeks ago, President Obama revived the issue for me by arguing for something he calls economic patriotism.  He hasn’t fleshed out what economic patriotism means to him, but I get the sense that it is a variation of enlightened capitalism, except that the excesses of capitalism will be ameliorated by patriotism (which, according to Obama’s perverse definition, means income redistribution) instead of morality. 

John Stossel’s new book, No, They Can’t, effectively repudiates both economic patriotism and enlightened capitalism.  It does this by pointing out – issue by issue – what intuition tempts us to believe and what reality has taught him.  For example:

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Someone needs to plan, and central planners know best.

What Reality Taught Me: No one knows enough to plan a society.

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Individuals are selfish, so we need government to “level the playing field” and make life “fair.”

What Reality Taught Me: When government makes life “fair,” that brings stagnation and poverty.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Businesses only care about the bottom line, so consumers need protection – i.e., government regulation.

What Reality Taught Me: Reputation, not regulation, protects consumers better.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Corporations are beyond our control, but government serves the people.

What Reality Taught Me: Private institutions face more pressure to serve the public than “public” ones do.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: American health care is a costly mess, and someone, probably government, must do something about it.

What Reality Taught Me: Government already dominates health care – and that’s the problem.    

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: It is nice for people to have their say, but some speech is so hateful and offensive that we must limit it.

What Reality Taught Me: No one can be trusted to silence others.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: It’s tyrants who want to censor.

What Reality Taught Me: We should fear the tyranny of the easily offended.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Public schools are one of the best parts of America.

What Reality Taught Me: Government schools are one of the worst parts of America.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Public schools are part of the American melting pot.

What Reality Taught Me: Government schools pull us apart.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Head Start is a success because it helps kids when they’re just learning to learn.

What Reality Taught Me: Even Head Start is an expensive failure.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Plants and animals exist in a state of harmony that we disrupt at our peril.

What Reality Taught Me: The natural world is brutal and violent.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: “Going green” is smart.

What Reality Taught Me: Green energy is a scam.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: The right laws will make America “energy independent.”

What Reality Taught Me: You’d have to change the laws of physics first.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: We must address global warming now.

What Reality Taught Me: Devote resources where you get the most bang for the buck.   

 

What Intuition Tempts Us To Believe: Moderation and bipartisanship would help politicians “make the tough decisions.”

What Reality Taught Me: People who recommend tough decisions are called “radicals.”  

 

John Stossel is a journalist who has worked for ABC, NBC, and CBS before finding his current home at FOX.  He is also an avowed libertarian who is notorious for recommending the legalization of marijuana and other recreational drugs.  His defense of pure capitalism in this book, which is based on objective facts (“reality”), is highly persuasive even without resorting to similarly persuasive arguments about the beneficial spiritual effects of capitalism. 

Count me as one of Stossel’s supporters.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] agree with Stossel.  In a recent blog posting, I wrote about President Obama’s economic patriotism and my enlightened capitalism.  Although […]

    Pingback by Greed « Mike Kueber's Blog — November 5, 2012 @ 11:58 am | Reply


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