Has Nobel Laureate Gary Becker been reading NOL?

I would think so, especially after reading this:

The movement toward free trade agreements and globalization during the past 60 years has enormously reduced the economic advantages of having a larger domestic market to sell goods ands services. Small countries can sell their goods to other countries, both large and small, almost as easily as large countries can sell in their own domestic markets. For example, during the past 30 years the small country of Chile has had the fastest growing economy of Latin America, larger than Brazil and Mexico, the two largest nations of this region. This would not have been possible without the access of Chilean companies to markets in other countries, both in South America and elsewhere. As a result, Chile now exports around 40% of its GDP, compared to a ratio of exports to GDP in the United States of about 13%.


Small countries can do well with small domestic markets by taking advantage of a globalized economy by selling large fractions of its production to consumers and companies in other countries. That is why smaller countries usually export a considerably larger fraction of its production, and import a much bigger share of its consumption, than do larger countries. Size of country was much more important in the past when many countries had high tariffs, and transportation costs were much more important.

Political interest groups tend to be less able in smaller countries in distorting political decision in their favor. This is partly because smaller countries are more homogeneous, so it is harder for one group to exploit another group since the groups are similar. In addition, since smaller nations have less monopoly power in world markets, it is less efficent for them to subsidize domestic companies in order to give these companies an advantage over imports. The greater profits to domestic companies from these subsidies come at the expense of much larger declines in consumer well being.

The growth in the competitiveness of small countries on the global market is in good part responsible at a deeper level for the remarkable growth in the number of countries since 1950 from a little over 100 to almost 200 countries now. And the number of independent countries is still growing.

OMG! He has been reading us! How could he not be? Check out our thoughts on secession, decentralization, and devolution and tell me I’m wrong. Do it!

Heck, if we’re writing about the same stuff as a Nobel Laureate, and you’re reading us, what does that tell you about you? About us?

I’m curious. I also know Dr Becker doesn’t really read us. However, does the fact that we write about the same concepts and events as a Nobel Laureate have more to do with intelligence or ideological bias? Do prominent Left-wing scholars write about secession and globalization in the same way that we do?

From what I can tell, the answer to my second question is ‘no’ (the answer to my first is further below). Generally speaking, libertarians view more countries, more decentralization and more economic integration as a great thing, and we’ve got the data (increases in income, and longevity of life, and literacy rates, and…) to back it up. We’re the optimists.

Leftists and conservatives argue that all the good libertarian things happening in the world are bad, and they have some data to back it up (like Gross National Happiness). Leftists and conservatives are the pessimists.

Is this disagreement over globalization really a matter of intelligence? Of ideology? I think it’s probably a mixture of both, and also that intelligence levels affect ideological bias. You don’t hear many stupid people advocating for a more globalized world, much less for decentralized power structures and economic integration. It’s also hard to find smart people that will shun internationalism at the cultural or political level. The fact that many smart people, especially on the Left, shun economic internationalism is not so much troubling as it is amusing.

Watching intelligent people attempt to squirm out of answering questions about economic internationalism (“globalization”) can be quite the treat.

I think facts are squarely on the libertarian’s side, and that the main obstacle to attaining a more globalized, a more economically integrated, and a more politically decentralized world is rhetoric (and sheer numbers, of course). The benefits of globalization are usually seen by intelligent people very quickly (though not always thanks to clever rhetoric), but there are simply not that many intelligent people in the world (if there were, wouldn’t intelligence be rendered useless or morph into something else?).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that working towards a more libertarian world (thousands of political units with one world market) should be easy, so why isn’t it? I think the answer is ‘factions’. Farm subsidies in the West, for example, are unnecessary and can actually lead to hunger in poorer parts of the world. Getting rid of such subsidies would be a great benefit to mankind, but these subsidies persist. Why? Because of the political power of farm lobbies. If a politician representing a farm district in the West votes to eliminate subsidies, he’s gone in the next election. So unless the representatives of Western farmers somehow band together in defiance of their own interests and vote to eliminate farm subsidies, poor people will go hungry and Western citizens will pay too much for food.

Here is the real conundrum, though. If some factions gain political leverage over other factions, it does not necessarily follow that arbitrarily ending the hard-won privileges of the rent-capturing factions is the best option to take. In fact, it is often the worst option to take because of the dangers associated with arbitrary rule.

Think about it this way: Suppose a bunch of farmers in a democratic state band together and form a lobby for the purpose of protecting their interests. They gain influence (“capturing the rent”) and eventually become a nuisance to their countrymen but not a problem. Unfortunately, they are more than a nuisance to people in poor countries, but these poor people are unable to form a lobby that counters the lobbying efforts of the farmers.

The farm lobby in the rich country has followed all the rules. It has achieved its status as rent-capturer fairly, democratically and legally. What gives the government the right to suddenly change the rules on the farm lobby? Absolutely nothing. Furthermore, if the democratic government starts to ban lobbies it deems to be nuisances, it relinquishes its democratic moniker (and, more importantly, introduces arbitrary rule). Do you see the problem of ‘factions’?

Unfortunately, factions are built in to the policy-making process itself. One of the strengths of democracies is that they tend to give factions more of a voice than autocracies. In the United States, for example, Madison sought to combat the problem of factions by restricting the scope of the state to certain duties, and his system has done an excellent job (all things considered).

So I’ve got two questions I hope to be able to think about in the near term: 1) how can we make the Madisonian system better here in the United States, and 2) how can we “export” (for lack of a better term) Madisonian democracy abroad in a non-coercive manner?

4 thoughts on “Has Nobel Laureate Gary Becker been reading NOL?

  1. “To understand why the U.S. health-care system is so expensive, you need to travel higher up the Forbes list. The pharmaceutical industry was in third place, with a 19.9 percent return, and the medical products and equipment industry was right behind it, with a 16.3 percent return.”

    I can’t really speak to doctors or even much about medical devices but with close to 25 years of doing research in biotechnology [including biopharma] I can speak about the pharma industry. The article is bang-on regarding the effect of the state using its bargaining power for drugs. Or not.

    • Ah thanks Dr A.

      You may have some insights into how Big Pharma can be defeated (for lack of a better term). A libertarian’s suggestion would be to expose it to competition, and of course he would be right, but how do we get from Point A to Point B?

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