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Book Review
Raymond Richman, 6/9/2013

John Stossel, No they can’t, Why Government Fails –But Individuals Succeed (New York: Threshold Editions, 2012)

This is a book all liberals should read because it challenges the myths they believe in. Many conservatives share some of these same myths. John Stossel is well-known for his Network show, Stossel, and his contributions to Fox News, He has won many Emmy Awards and is a five-time National Press Club honoree. He writes about “Fixing” the Economy, fairness myths, political correctness, education, the War on Drugs, conservationist extremes, food faddists, globalization and a host of other topics and host of other issues everyone is concerned about.

Throughout the book, he inserts a box related to the topic he is discussing, with the heading, “What Intuition Tempts Us to Believe In” and “What Reality Taught Me”. These should be read while readiong the text to which thay appl;y. A few examples:

Intuition, “It’s good for government to encourage home ownership” and the reality “When government interferes in a market … Bad things happen.”

Intuition, “Governments should use the tax code to reward good behavior” and the reality “Show me a tax break, and I will show you results that even the program’s advocates wouldn’t like.”

Intuition ,“Licensing protects consumers” and the reality “Licensing ends up protecting politically connected businesses from fair competition.”

Intuition, “Free trade leads to a ‘race to the bottom” and the reality “Free trade helps more than it hurts.” This one we disagree with. Yes, free trade can be beneficial but when a country taxes our exports and it results in chronic trade deficits for the U.S., we believe we should retaliate. Our trade deficits have grown for two decades and cost millions of American workers their jobs.

Intuition,“Under government health care, people get equal treatment” and the reality “They get equally second-rate treatment.”

Intuition, “Greedy food companies would happily make us sick and fat, so government must protect us” and the reality “Capitalism has improved out health more than government ever can.”

Intuition, “Government should outlaw life’s bigger risks” and the reality “Government has no rational way of deciding which risks are worth taking.”

Intuition, “Teachers unions want what’s best for teachers and kids” and the reality “Teachers unions want what’s best for unions.”

Intuition, “Head Start is a success because it helps kids when they’re just learning to learn” and the reality “Even Head Start is an expensive failure.”

Intuition, “Education is too important to be left to the uncertainty of market competition” and the reality “Education is too important to leave to a government monopoly.”

Intuition, “Drugs cause crime” and the reality “The drug war causes the crime.”

Intuition, “The 9/11 attacks prove the need for a powerful Department of Homeland Security” and the reality “DHS excesses help terrorists win.”

Intuition, “Environmentalists are compassionate” and the reality “Authoritarian environmentalists kill people.”

Intuition, “The budget is complicated, so we should leave it to the experts” and the reality “If it’s so complicated, we should stop doing things this way.”

The above selected beliefs and realities show the range of topics that author deals with. It is all worth reading. It is funny and yet serious. Not every point he makes is right as we’ve shown in the case of free trade. But he is preponderantly right. In any case, everything he writes, he supports with facts and sound arguments, even on the topic of  trade. This is a valuable book and makes the reader think through his own beliefs. It is a joy to read.

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

    Atlantic Economic Journal:

  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]