Richard W. Rahn, the recipient of the 2018 Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award, has a new book that you can enrich your bookshelves with. As the title Clear Vision: A 40-year Collection of Selected Columns suggests, this book is a collection of 40 years of work by a staunch advocate of supply-side economics, small government, classical liberalism, and freedom in general. If you are wondering why there is a need for such a book in your library – after all, “almost everything in this book can be found online” – Dr. Rahn has the answer. In this modern age where everything can be found on a digital screen in our hands, there are still people who prefer “holding physical books” in their hands. And if centuries from now “the Internet and electronic records have been destroyed by a cyberwar,” it will be this gem in your library that will help your great-grandchildren better understand the issues of the past 40 years.
The book is structured according to 11 different topics, including supply-side economics, environmental policy, taxes, and regulation, as well as foreign policy; one part of the book is dedicated to the obituaries of the people who not only played a part in Dr. Rahn’s life, but contributed to humankind as well, honoring their accomplishment for the betterment of the world.
In the section dedicated to environmental policy, all you need to see are the dates when the articles were published and you will realize, if you haven’t by now, how long this debate has been going on. It turns out that not only is this an old debate, but the arguments have always been more or less similar, with more top-down control for solving the “current” environmental apocalypse. Oh, and yes, you will find many instances where those same “trust the science” type folk were proven incorrect, and yet, asked to be trusted the next time a science learned of “a new apocalypse.” For example, as back as 1922 one can find reports by Associated Press published in the Washington Post saying “within a few years it is predicted that due to the ice melt the sea will rise and make most coastal cities uninhabitable.” Similar to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” back in 1989 Noel Brown, the then director of the New York office of the United Nations Environmental Program warned of a “10-year window of opportunity to solve” global warming. Spend enough time and the list becomes ‘endless’.
In the economic policy section, you will find articles that will tell you more about Dr. Rahn’s realistic worldview when it comes to the proper role of government. One should not fall victim to the nirvana fallacy and expect idealistic solutions to the problems of the world. What we seldom remember today is that people you disagree with aren’t necessarily bad people. Thus, when Dr. Rahn criticizes Medicare, for example, he talks about the economics behind the system, and how to make it more efficient and fair (and not fairer!) at the same time. In essence, this boils down to more freedom of choice and flexibility when choosing.
In one of the articles, Dr. Rahn observes that “most people who are given a steady diet of misinformation will eventually believe it.” Although at first glance it might sound like a ‘fake news’ trope, this was written more than a decade before President Trump made the phrase popular. The economic myths mentioned in the article can be seen as widely believed today and much more. With socialists like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the like, the myths are arguably more widespread today. And a “steady diet of economic nonsense… leads to ignorant citizenry.” Thus, not only does one need to enact good, growth-oriented policies, but one has to defend those policies with vigor. A policy enjoys scant support “if people are not told why it is good.” “The enemies of freedom and prosperity depend on ignorance.” But the people are not stupid and “can understand and support good economic policy if it is repeatedly explained to them in clear language.” In the battle of ideas, classical liberalism is triumphant and public intellectuals need to spend more time engaging with the public in the pursuit of freedom and prosperity.
There is a world of difference between how much of your paycheck the government takes every month and what that money is actually being spent on. Another question that is often forgotten is, no matter how laudable the goals of a policy are, how feasible said policy is. That government spending crowds out private spending has been known for quite some time. The issue was that many believed government spends money more efficiently than private individuals, leading to “higher levels of prosperity.” However, in the search for the optimal size of government, Dr. Rahn (and his aides) reached the conclusion that it cannot go above 25% of GDP, far below what is being spent by the government, both in the U.S. and in the EU. It turns out, that not only is (government) spending not always good, but sometimes it is even more counterproductive.
I covered only a few of the topics and the general ideas covered by Dr. Rahn. And the book has much more to offer! It’s not a small thing to catch the public’s eye and contribute valuable insights for 40 years. Dr. Rahn has deserves all of the respect he has earned. Clear Vision: A 40-year Collection of Selected Columns is a monument to his achievements.