This post contains a transcript of EP125 on price controls, infrastructure, and other topics with President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education Lawrence W. Reed. Also, note we’ve published a new video clip from the interview, featuring Larry talking about his article Why I wish we could put Chester Arthur and Joe Biden in a room together to talk infrastructure spending.
Transcript of EP125 w/ Larry Reed, FEE
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close.
Gene Tunny 00:01
Coming up on Economics Explored.
Larry Reed 00:04
When government comes in and says, “We don’t like prices rising as fast as they are. We’re going to impose controls to prevent that from happening.” First of all, it is treating a symptom of something else. It’s not dealing fundamentally with the issue at hand that produced the rising prices in the first place. It’s a political diversion.
Gene Tunny 00:25
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a former Australian Treasury Official. This is episode 125 on price controls, which some commentators are suggesting could be used to reduce inflation. We also explore some other topics, such as whether Jesus was a socialist, why Joe Biden arguably should look back to the 21st president Chester Arthur, and why the separation of bank and state is so important.
My guest this episode is Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, a leading pro-free market educational nonprofit headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Larry has authored nearly 2000 newspaper columns and articles and dozens of articles in magazines and journals in the United States and abroad. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, The Epoch Times, and The Washington Examiner among many other places. Larry is frequently interviewed on radio talk shows and TV, including on Fox Business News.
Please check out the show notes for the links to materials mentioned in this episode and for any clarifications. You’ll find the show notes via your podcasting app or at our website, economicsexplored.com. If you sign up as an email subscriber, you’ll be able to download my new eBook, Top 10 Insights from Economics, so please consider getting on the mailing list. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please either record them in a message via SpeakPipe. See the link in the show notes or email them to me via our contact at economicsexplored.com. I’d love to hear from you.
Now, for my conversation with Larry Reed from the Foundation for Economic Education. Thanks to my audio engineer, Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.
Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, welcome to the programme.
Larry Reed 02:45
Thank you very much, Gene. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
Gene Tunny 02:47
It’s great to have you on, Larry. I have been reading a lot of your writings lately. You’ve started off the year very well and coming on important issues, crazy proposals such as price controls. We might chat about that a bit later. But first, I’d like to ask you about the Foundation for Economic Education. Could you tell us a bit about what its role is and the type of activities it engages in place?
Larry Reed 03:16
Your listeners and viewers can learn a great deal more by visiting its website, which is FEE.org. The foundation was created in 1946 by a great man named Leonard Read. He was no relation to me. He spelled his name R-E-A-D. But after World War Two, he looked around and realised that there was no organisation in the world that was full-time devoting itself to explaining and defending how free enterprise, the profit motive, private property, how that system works. He created the foundation for the purpose of spreading those ideas.
Over the years, our message and our principles have not changed. But the focus of our message and principles has somewhat changed. It’s become a bit more focused on young people, specifically high school and college age. We do that through programmes in-person all over the country, in the US, and abroad, as well as the website videos, on the website courses, you name it. All designed to explain how freedom and free markets work.
Gene Tunny 04:31
You mentioned Leonard Read? Did he write that famous essay, “I, Pencil”?
Larry Reed 04:37
Yes, he did in December of 1958. That has had a remarkable impact on people all over the globe.
Gene Tunny 04:45
Absolutely. I think it shows how complex even products that we think of as simple are and there’s no way any central authority and this is what we discovered with the Eastern European socialist economies with the Soviet Union. You can’t plan this sort of thing. You need to rely on the market mechanism to be able to produce even something that we might think as mundane as a pencil. I’ll put a link in the show notes to that essay because I think it’s brilliant. I think Milton Friedman quotes from it in Free to Choose, if I remember correctly.
Larry Reed 05:23
After someone reads it, they are well-armed to take on a central planner type. Every time I run into somebody that thinks that he knows enough that he can plan an economy of millions of people, I always say, “Wait a minute. You don’t even know how to make a pencil, let alone an entire economy.”
Gene Tunny 05:44
That’s right. You got to think about it. You’ve got to get the timber, you’ve got to cut it, you’ve got to get the graphite, etc., combine them all together. A great essay. Is Hazlitt associated with the foundation? He wrote that book, is it “Economics in One Lesson”? Is that one of the books that you promote?
Larry Reed 06:07
Yes, it is one of the more popular offerings from FEE in the last 70 years. Henry Hazlitt was long associated with FEE. He was one of the charter members of its board of trustees, a good friend of our founder, Leonard Read, and was on the board for decades. I’m happy to say that I knew him personally for the last decade of his life.
Gene Tunny 06:33
That book has had a big impact too. He must have been pleased with how that was received.
Larry Reed 06:40
Gene Tunny 06:42
Very good. We might get on to some of the topical issues. The big economic issue at the moment is inflation. We’re seeing accelerating inflation in advanced economies. In a way, this probably should have been expected, given the big expansion in the supply of money that we’ve seen in United States, United Kingdom, Australia, to a lesser extent, but still a substantial increase.
Now, we’re starting to see that in inflation. Some people are saying it’s temporary. There could be some temporary element, there’s a supply-chain disruption. Who knows? My view is that it is something we’ve got to worry about. People are starting to talk about, “What do we do about it?” There’s a monetary policy response. But there are people who are thinking, “Let’s be careful because we don’t want to constrain economic growth and cost jobs. Why don’t we look at price controls?” You’ve written a great article, “Price Controls: Killing the Messenger If You Don’t Like the Message”, could you talk about what you mean by that please?
Larry Reed 07:51
Yes, I’d be happy to. We should think of prices as conveying immense amounts of information. Prices result from the free interplay of supply and demand, which in turn reflect the individual choices, ambitions, opportunities, tastes, and you name it of endless consumers in the marketplace. Prices don’t accidentally arise. The notion that you can fiddle with them by government decree with no consequences is ridiculous. It’s anti-science. It’s anti-economics. Prices are what they are in free markets for good reason because they’re reflecting conditions of supply and demand and people’s preferences and tastes and so forth.
When government comes in and says, “We don’t like prices rising as fast as they are. We’re going to impose controls to prevent that from happening.” First of all, it is treating a symptom of something else, it’s not dealing fundamentally with the issue at hand that produced the rising prices in the first place. It’s a political diversion. It’s politicians, who on the one hand, have got their hand on the printing press cranking out easy money at low interest, easy credit, and pumping up prices. At the other hand, they got a club in their fist and they want to beat people for responding the way you would.
If at any time you massively increase the quantity of something, it will affect the value of every single unit and they’ve been expanding the money supply immensely. If they put on price controls to prevent prices from being at some higher level, all that does by treating a symptom not the cause, is to create economic problems of their own. It creates shortages, for instance, if the market price of something would be $10. But government says, “No, you can’t charge any more than $7.” What happens is at $7, more people want the stuff and fewer suppliers will provide it. That would be the case at $10. You got a double whammy. You got less of the stuff coming on the market and more people wanting it at that artificial price. Bingo! Long lines at stores and shortages. People who propose price controls are ultimately anti-economic science and oblivious to the effects that we have seen historically, literally for centuries with no exception.
Gene Tunny 10:22
One thing about this issue, it seems to be something that the vast majority economists seem to be in agreement on which is good. You quoted in your article, there was an Op-Ed in The Guardian. The title was, “We have a powerful weapon to fight inflation price controls, it’s time we consider it” and Paul Krugman responded, “I am not a free market zealot. But this is truly stupid.” Absolutely. You’ve had experience in the US in living memory of price controls? Was it in the 70s that Nixon’s Whip Inflation Now and then Carter, perhaps with their controls on the price of gasoline that did lead to these big lines at gas stations in the States?
Larry Reed 11:21
The Whip Inflation Now thing actually was Gerald Ford. That was a campaign to get people to wear buttons that said, “whip inflation now” as if that would somehow whip it. Before him, it was Richard Nixon, who actually imposed wage and price controls. First, in the form of a 90-day freeze on virtually all wages and prices and then followed by government directed prices that limited by how much they could rise.
Every economist worth his salt knows that that produced disaster. That was no solution to anything. It gave us long lines at the gas pump and empty shelves in the stores. It was ridiculous. I used to know a man, he’s deceased now, but he was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Paul McCracken, great economist. He cautioned Nixon not to do this. He said it’s never worked in 4000 years, don’t even think of it. Nixon went ahead anyway and shortly thereafter, McCracken resigned.
We’ve had lots of experiences. Lots of countries have had experiences with it. Revolutionary France in the 1790s, the government imposed the so-called Law of the Maximum, which said that government will fix the maximum price of things and the penalty for violating that will be death. They guillotined a lot of people for that and it did not make anybody produce more of anything.
Gene Tunny 12:55
That’s a negative supply shock too, isn’t it? Killing your producers? Terrible. That’s some good stuff there. I take it your view would be that inflation is a monetary phenomenon. Therefore, the key to controlling it is to get your monetary policy, right? This isn’t about monetary policy, but I’m guessing that’s where you’re coming from. There’s a big debate about what that means and role of the Fed, etc. But would that be your view?
Larry Reed 13:33
Inflation, Milton Friedman famously said, “is anywhere and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” I’m sympathetic to that but I also point out that there’s another dimension here. Prices ultimately reflect, to a great extent, what’s going on in people’s minds. There are extraordinary circumstances, but there are occasions when you could have soaring prices without an increase in the money supply. One of the examples I like to point to is the Philippines.
During World War Two, when the Japanese had occupied it, they imposed their currency on the Philippines. General MacArthur was attempting to ultimately take the Philippines and he was jumping from island to island, getting closer and closer. The Japanese weren’t dumping any more of their paper money into the Philippines and yet, prices would leap every time word came that MacArthur was now a few hundred miles closer. That’s because people’s estimate of the value of that money declined because they knew if he gets here and takes the Philippines back, the Japanese currency will be completely worthless. Given that prospect, we’re happy to pay any price to get anything now while it’s worth something. That’s a rare occasion.
We’re not facing that circumstance today. We do have to fall back on the fact that today’s inflation that we’re witnessing is not a Philippine-style rise in prices. It is a monetary phenomenon, reflecting the massive increase in money and credit that our Federal Reserve in the US has manufactured. Many central banks around the Western world have done as well.
Gene Tunny 15:21
That’s a great story about the Philippines. I’ll have to look that up. MacArthur is a great hero to many of us in Australia because there’s a view that he essentially saved Australia. He based himself in Australia after he fled from the Philippines and he had an office a little bit down the road from where I am here in Brisbane in the ANP Building during World War Two. That was one of the locations from which he waged the war in the Pacific. Great story. Very good. That’s a good discussion of price controls, Larry.
I’d also like to ask you; you’ve also written about whether Jesus was a socialist. I’d like to ask you about that. Also, I don’t know if you saw the recent controversy around Dave Ramsey’s comments. Dave Ramsey, the esteemed financial commentator in the US.
Larry Reed 16:21
Yes. Although I may not be aware of recent comments that you’re bringing up.
Gene Tunny 16:26
Essentially, someone asked him a question, “As a Christian, should I feel bad if I raise the rent on my properties to the market rent, and then that means that some of my tenants can’t afford to live in those properties anymore. It causes them financial hardship.” Dave Ramsey’s comments weren’t received by many, particularly on the progressive side of politics because he said, “There’s no problem with doing that because it’s not me that is evicting you. It’s actually the market.” He was appealing to the market. I’d like to ask you about that. If you haven’t seen his comments, and it’s probably worthwhile considering the whole context of them, feel free not to comment on that.
But I would like to ask you about your work on, was Jesus a socialist? Could you take us through what your analysis of that question has revealed, please, Larry?
Larry Reed 17:29
I’d be happy to, Gene. In fact, the best way to begin that is to tell the story from the New Testament that answers your first question. Along the lines of what Dave Ramsey apparently said. Jesus Himself told nearly 40 parables and most of them deal with things like eschatology and salvation and so forth. But at least three of them have very strong economic content.
One of them that’s relevant to what you’ve just raised is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This is about a man who apparently owns a substantial vineyard and he needs to bring the grapes in, it’s harvest time. Jesus tells a story of how he gets a group of workers together first thing in the morning and he says, “I’ll give you each a denarius for a full day’s work.” They say, “Okay.” They go out and they start picking grapes.
Around noon time, the owner realises, “I’ve got to get even more out there.” He gets another group together, and he says, “Look, I know that the day’s half-gone, but if you’ll go out for the rest of the day and pick grapes, I’ll give you each a denarius.” Finally, at the end of the day, with maybe an hour before a dark and he still has grapes that have to come in, he calls another group of workers and says, “If you’ll take time out, go out for an hour and pick some grapes, I’ll give you a denarius.”
Later, according to the story, the owner gathers all these three groups of workers together to pay them. The first group is very angry, because they’re saying, “We worked a full day and you’re giving us the same as those guys who showed up at the later, even the ones that only worked for an hour.” You would think that if Jesus were a socialist, he would have the vineyard owner saying, “You’re right, this is unfair. I’m sorry about that.” But instead, Jesus has the vineyard owner say to these guys, “It’s my money. You signed the contract. I’m giving you what I promised. Now, take it and get out of here.”
That’s Jesus basically saying, private property, voluntary contract, keeping your word, honest dealings, and I think supply and demand all defend what the vineyard owner is saying. Presumably, he had to pay that last group of workers a hefty premium to get them. They probably worked for somebody else all day and now, they’re being asked to go for yet another hour, he has to pay them a premium to do that to bring the grapes in.
Jesus does not say, “Let’s be compassionate and give this group the same as that group or in proportion to their time.” Instead, he says, “Each man is getting what he was promised when he agreed to by contract.”
I think Dave Ramsey is essentially right. There is no obligation, moral or otherwise, for someone to endure a loss or to get less than he could for property that’s his when market conditions suggests that a higher rent is worth it. It’s the higher rent that will likely bring more housing units into the marketplace, which will solve the problem in the long run anyway.
Gene Tunny 20:47
By inducing more supply, more investment in rental properties. That’s a good point. I’ll put a link to the article on Dave Ramsey. I thought it was a fascinating discussion. Also, I’ll find something to link to that. Was it a parable?
Larry Reed 21:12
The parable of the workers in the vineyard. I discuss that in more detail in my book, “Was Jesus a Socialist?” if anybody cares to look at it from that perspective.
Gene Tunny 21:25
It’s an interesting question. I must say, I’m surprised that it is something that’s up for debate. Is this because a lot of people on the left side of politics have appealed to Christianity as a way to support what policy positions they’re advocating for?
Larry Reed 21:51
I think so. I don’t give the left much credit for their economics, but I do give them credit for their marketing, because they’re always out there saying, “Go with us because our way of thinking will produce more for people. We’re going to take care of people. We’re going to give them stuff. It won’t cost them anything, they won’t have to worry about where it’s coming from.” The rhetoric is always very promising, but the results and the outcomes are pretty dismal and miserable.
A lot of people come to this mistaken conclusion that Jesus may have been a socialist because He talks so much about helping the poor. But I think in capitalist countries, where more wealth is produced, you have more giving and more caring and more philanthropy than you have in socialist countries. In fact, even government-to-government foreign aid is primarily from the predominantly capitalist countries to the predominantly socialist recipients.
If Jesus came back today and spoke to a large audience of people and said, “I was interested in the poor. Tell me what you all did for the poor?” If you raised your hand and said, “I voted for all the politicians who said they’d take care of that.” I don’t think He’d be impressed. I think He would say, “You’ve resorted to theft? I told you not to steal and I told you furthermore that the poor are folks that you, from the generosity of your hearts and your own resources, ought to help. I never told you you could pass it off to politicians. If they solved the problem, it’ll be at 10 times the price.”
Gene Tunny 23:33
Yes, that’s a good point. I’ll have to come back to this in a future episode and looking at what are the best ways to reduce poverty of it if we’ve actually figured that out? Clearly, the welfare state that we’ve got in countries like Australia, the UK, to a lesser extent, the US, you could argue it has relieved some absolute poverty. But at the same time, it does, arguably, traps many people in poverty in a way.
Larry Reed 24:07
To make a long story short, you can’t solve poverty if the pie is shrinking. You have to make a bigger pie and there is no known system in the history of mankind that makes a bigger pie faster than the system of freedom and free markets.
Gene Tunny 24:24
Absolutely. We’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
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Gene Tunny 25:03
Now, back to the show. The other things I wanted to chat with you about before we wrap up are some recent articles of yours. There was a piece, “Why I Wish We Could Put Chester Arthur and Joe Biden in a Room Together to Talk Infrastructure Spending”. I’d love to hear about that, particularly about Chester Arthur, because he’s one of the lesser-known US presidents.
Larry Reed 25:34
Yes, he is one of the lesser-known ones. He served less than one full term. He took office as vice president, became president when James Garfield was assassinated in the middle of 1881. He served about three and a half years, the rest of Garfield’s term. He’s often written off as sort of—he was tied to the corrupt Tammany Hall machine in New York and so forth. On the good side, historians will remember that he did support civil service reform and made the federal government a little less corrupt. That was a good thing.
But he also understood the Constitution and appreciated it more than Joe Biden does. I wrote that article pointing out what Arthur’s view on infrastructure spending was compared to Joe Biden’s in America. We recently went through a national discussion, a bill passed, supposedly bipartisan. It was a massive, almost $2 trillion in infrastructure spending.
An equivalent bill was called a Rivers and Harbors Act and Arthur vetoed it. In his veto, he raised some great objections, all of which are applied to the bill that Biden recently signed. He said, “This is way too much. There’s no way that a government of our size can know where all this money’s going to go. It looks like a small portion of it is even earmarked for infrastructure. There’s a lot of pork barrel stuff in here. Quit doing this, loading our bills and all this other nonsense.”
That’s what Joe Biden should have said about the recent infrastructure bill. But he was all for it from the start. I think about 10% was aimed at infrastructure, the rest is pork barrel and progressive agenda stuff. I would like to put Joe Biden and Chester Arthur in the same room and say, “Chester, go at it. Tell this guy what infrastructure is and why it’s wasteful to spend so much on.”
Gene Tunny 27:46
At the same time, would you say that there is an issue with infrastructure in the US with the quality of infrastructure? This is something I’ve chatted with Darren Nelson about in a previous episode and Darren’s view was, “We need to get the private sector more involved in public-private partnerships, perhaps.” Do you have any thoughts on that, Larry? What is the quality of infrastructure like? Is there a problem to solve and how would you go about it?
Larry Reed 28:19
With infrastructure, I think there has always been some measure of problem, because government has assumed from the start that this is a legitimate profits of government. Once you do that, you have to at least expect that they’ll keep it up and do it right and keep an eye it to prepare for when it falls apart. But politicians come and go and they’re more interested in the flash in the pan. They show up to cut the ribbon at the start of a bridge that’s being built. But once it’s built, it’s no longer politically sexy to stand around and keep an eye on it in case it collapses because they figure, “If that happens, it’ll be a long after I’m gone. Why should I care?”
You do end up with politicians putting more focus on the construction of the stuff and less on its repair and maintenance. That’s where you can get a bigger bang for your dollars or if you will, by writing contracts with the private sector that require ongoing maintenance and inspection and so forth. I wouldn’t want the government with its own employees and its own infrastructure monopoly becoming a bridge builder. They don’t know about bridges. That’s best done by the private sector. They should be contracting with private sector providers to do it and monitor the contracts. Put all the provisions in those contracts that would require proper maintenance.
Gene Tunny 29:52
That’s a good point. It’s one of those great challenges, how do you get the infrastructure that you need cost-effectively? In Australia, one of the problems we’ve got, there’s a lot of government investment going into infrastructure at the moment that it seems to be at very inflated prices all over the country. There’s a powerful construction union, which is allied with the government in the state that I am, Queensland, which has ended up inflating the cost of any infrastructure project by 30% or 40%. It’s quite extraordinary and taxpayers end up wearing that.
Larry Reed 30:43
I wouldn’t be surprised if you have some of the same kind of history in Australia, as we do in the US. But there’s a lot of history in America of government spending on infrastructure that produced disaster, because it dangled subsidies in front of private contractors, who then went after the subsidies and cared little about how well the infrastructure itself was actually built. The best example is America’s transcontinental railroads.
There were five of them built across the country. Four of them got extensive federal government land grants and subsidies. Not only land grants, but they got subsidies on a per mile basis. Four of them threw down tracks just to get the goodies. And in fact, the two famous ones that met at Promontory Point, Utah, as they were getting closer, they were crossing over to the other companies’ territory and blowing up the tracks because they wanted to get more subsidies by laying more track down. There was only one transcontinental that got no government subsidies. That was James J. Hill’s’ Great Northern. It was not by coincidence the only transcontinental that never went bankrupt because they had to put down tracks when it made economic sense, not because the government was throwing money at them,
Gene Tunny 32:06
Another good example I’ll have to investigate. This is the last question; I’d like to ask about some of your other writings and it looks like you have been prolific or regular traveller. Obviously, COVID cut back on all of our travels, but you’ve written some great pieces. You’ve made observations on what we can learn from other countries around the world and in some places that you generally don’t hear about. One of your articles is, “The World’s Oldest Republic Reveals the Secret to Peace and Prosperity”.
Larry Reed 32:46
Gene Tunny 32:48
You’ve also drawn lessons from economic history in Italy. I think it was in Italy, your article, “Why the Separation of Bank and State is Important”. Would you be able to explain what is that secret to peace and prosperity? How that’s revealed by the world’s oldest republic and also the point about the separation of bank and state, please.
Larry Reed 33:13
Both of these articles, you can at FEE.org and you can find them also on where I blog on lawrencewreed.com. With regard to the oldest constitutional republic, we published that last Sunday, it’s about the tiny country of San Marino. It’s the fifth smallest country in the world. It’s entirely enveloped by Italy. It’s in the northeast of the Italian peninsula. Right in its middle is this big rock called Mount Titan.
It’s the oldest Republic in the world, dating back to the early fourth century when that chunk of territory was gifted from its private owner, a woman in Rimini, now part of Italy. She gifted it to a Christian stonemason who had fled there to avoid the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. She said, “You can have this property.” He, in effect, declared the first, and now the oldest constitutional republic.
Only twice in its history has it been invaded. In both cases, within a matter of months, the pope ordered the invaders out, lest they be attacked by papal forces. They maintained their independence all these years. They have a GDP per capita that’s a shade below that of the United States. The secret is that they have kept themselves economically free.
Freedom House is non-profit that rates countries as to their degree of economic freedom and they rate San Marino as the 12th freest country in the world. Its capital gains tax is only 5%, which is a third of what ours is in the US. It’s much lower than it is in the European community. A great little success story in that quiet little enclave in the Apennine Mountains.
The other example or article that you’re referring to comes from Genoa, on the other side of northwest Italy. Genoa was, for hundreds of years, an Italian city state, much as Pisa and Venice and Gaeta and some others were. The secret to its success, more than any other single entity, was a private bank that was so private, it was in effect, a country within a country. It was called the Bank of St. George.
When it was chartered in 1407, the separation between the bank and the government of Genoa was as complete as it could get. It basically said, “We’re not paying any attention to you and you don’t have to pay any attention to us but you need us.” Because the bank consistently bailed out the state when it got in trouble. But the bank was very firmly on a gold standard, it had a policy of not issuing any paper for which you did not have gold coin on deposit. It was reliable, it was honest, and for hundreds of years, until Napoleon invaded and shut the bank down, it was a rock of stability and a big reason that Genoa became a maritime trading giant in the Mediterranean.
Gene Tunny 36:37
This wasn’t something positive Napoleon brought then. That’s interesting, I have to read more about it. How does it illustrate that the separation of bank and state is important? How does it illustrate that?
Larry Reed 36:52
The Bank of St. George exerted an anti-inflationary pressure on the government of Genoa. Governments love to inflate, and the moment they get in charge of banking, that’s what they do. They print the stuff and makes it easier for them to pay their bills and to run deficits and so forth. The Bank of St. George did not abide by that. They wouldn’t have recognised any coin or paper from the city of Genoa if it hadn’t been sound. Their example spoke volumes to the people of Genoa and across Europe. Here’s a bank that’s in great shape. It has to bail out the government of the region every now and then because they’re profligate, but the bank is not.
I think the separation of bank and state is an issue I wish we spent a lot more time on these days. We’ve assumed that government should be orchestrating the banking system, but the history of government and banking is not a positive one. They take over banking whenever they can because it’s their avenue to depreciating and debauching currency.
Gene Tunny 38:06
I think it’s a big concern when governments set up these banks or shadow banks to promote particular policy objectives. I remember, back in the late 2000s, there was a lot of talk about an infrastructure bank that was something the Obama administration was looking at but didn’t go through with. There were similar moves here in Australia that didn’t amount to anything because it reminded people of what happened in the 80s with the state banks of South Australia and Victoria, the Tricontinental merchant banking arm and they got heavily involved in speculative property development, if I remember correctly, and ended up going bust and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. People still remember that. There’s a risk if governments get involved in banking and financial shenanigans.
Larry Reed 39:06
Too often anyway, we judge government by the stated intentions rather than by actual outcomes and results. If a government came to me and said, “What do you think about us getting into the banking business?” I would probably say to them, “Aren’t you in the post office business already? Aren’t people complaining about that? Why don’t you get that right before you go into banking?” In US, everybody complains about the post office. What makes you think the same entity can manage a nation’s banking system?
Gene Tunny 39:38
Exactly, very good. Larry, any final words? Anything you think we should be thinking about or looking out for?
Larry Reed 39:48
I would say this thing that people everywhere should be thinking more than they are about the importance of individual liberty. We take it for granted in places where we’ve had a lot of it. But there’s nothing about it that’s either automatic or guaranteed, and it can disappear with bad ideas almost overnight. And yet, life without liberty, in my estimation, is unthinkable. We better think about it. I can’t imagine a life in which you aren’t living yours. You’re not making your choices, somebody else is imposing their choices on you. They’re living their lives through you.
I can’t imagine living in that environment as they, to a great extent, do in places like North Korea or Cuba. Liberty is precious, it’s rare in history. It’s never guaranteed and it deserves the conscious deliberation, and sometimes sacrifice of everyone wants to be a free person.
Gene Tunny 40:50
Absolutely. It just occurred to me, we probably should have touched on the pandemic. Feel free to respond to this if you like. Otherwise, we can wrap up. In Australia, we’ve had quite severe restrictions relating to COVID at times and they’ve raised eyebrows around the world. People have thought, “What’s going on there in Australia?” But what a lot of people in Australia say is that’s necessary for the public good.
You may bang on about civil liberties and I have, at times, think some of these restrictions have been excessive. But you get a lot of pushback and people say, “You think you’ve got the rights to do that but you don’t have the right to spread a deadly virus and spread the disease.” That’s how they push back. I agree, I think we’ve lost the original commitment, a strong love of liberty that we’ve had. I think we’ve lost that. People are terrified of this virus and they push back with that line, “You don’t have the right to spread the virus.” I don’t know how to win those arguments, to be honest.
Larry Reed 42:12
There’s something to be said for this and that is that this circumstance was unprecedented and it’s not over yet. That the jury may not yet be completely in with all irrelevant verdicts. I have a sense though, that the more we learn, the more of this we go through, the more experience we have with it, the more we’re likely to look back and say, “Those lockdowns were counterproductive. The mask mandates went on far longer than they should have, if they ever should have been in existence in the first place.” I think a lot of the tools that government employed will come under more scrutiny and questions.
If you’re a cheerleader for them now, I would say, “Why don’t you hold off because you may be embarrassed in the not-too-distant future?” But what concerns me the most is that all of this totalitarian impulse sets dangerous precedents because people who love power, who want it to be concentrated in government and think that the right people will do the right things, they don’t stop with the power that they get. They usually say, “It’s necessary now, I’ll hold on to it.”
In the long run, if we allow this COVID experience to set the new norm for government intervention, radical intervention in our lives across a broad front, we may look back and say, “We would have been a lot better off if we simply endured COVID.” Because one of the worst things that people can do is to consign their lives to politicians. There are a lot of things they end up regretting whenever they do that.
Gene Tunny 43:51
I think that’s a good point, Larry. We might end there. Thanks so much for your time. I enjoyed that conversation. Some great points and excellent historical examples that I’m going to have to look up and add to my arsenal of historical examples that I can bring up. Very good. Lawrence W. Reed, President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you so much.
Larry Reed 44:20
My pleasure. Thank you, Gene.
Gene Tunny 44:22
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