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Frederic Bastiat, Phone the EPA!



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So Lisa Jackson takes to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal today to repeat her “EPA is good for the economy!” spiel in celebration of that agency’s creation by executive fiat (“Reorganization Plan No. 3“) 40 years ago, one of R. Milhous Nixon’s many swell ideas.

The pull quote, by an editor at the Journal with a sense of humor, reflects her thesis:

Alleged “job-killing” regulations have, according to the Commerce Department, sparked a homegrown environmental protection industry that employs more than 1.5 million Americans.

Clearly we just need more regulations, then, to recover from the economic collapse brought about by the hyperactively interventionist regulator . . . oops, almost forgot: by “capitalism.”

Read the whole thing. And then remember Bastiat mocking this inanity (and that of the entire “green economy” fallacy) well over a century ago, in pertinent, somewhat truncated form here:

Have you ever been witness to the fury of that solid citizen, James Goodfellow, when his incorrigible son has happened to break a pane of glass? [. . . To which onlookers might say] “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good.

Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?”

Now, this formula of condolence contains a whole theory that it is a good idea for us to expose, flagrante delicto, in this very simple case, since it is exactly the same as that which, unfortunately, underlies most of our economic institutions.

Suppose that it will cost six francs to repair the damage. If you mean that the accident gives six francs’ worth of encouragement to the aforesaid industry, I agree. I do not contest it in any way; your reasoning is correct. The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

But if, by way of deduction, you conclude, as happens only too often, that it is good to break windows, that it helps to circulate money, that it results in encouraging industry in general, I am obliged to cry out: That will never do! Your theory stops at what is seen. It does not take account of what is not seen.

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

So, if you get to the bottom of all the arguments advanced in favor of restrictionist measures, you will find only a paraphrase of that common cliché: “What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke any windows?”



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