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I am of the opinion that there can never be enough reflective history done on some of the ideas celebrated in our grade school (and college) textbooks. In today’s edition, Robert Bradley refers us to the Sherman Antitrust Act. You know the origin story – big business was destroying America, widening the gap between the haves and the have nots, and so Congress stepped in and on behalf of the American people, instituted this important Trust Busting law. Now, nothing here says the law itself is bad or good or anything else. But, given the current suspicion people claim to have with Congress, politicians, the elite, I am totally amazed at how our fanciful narratives of “high minded public interested” ideas permeate our thought today. My suspicion is that if someone uncovered the origin stories of almost any idea we hold dear, as apparently Nancy McLean seems to have done (more on that elsewhere), you will find a bit of an uglier underbelly than our childish brains would like to admit.

In this edition, it turns out that the force behind the Sherman Act (passed by Republicans, promoted by Republicans by the way) was an act of political revenge and of not playing nice in the sandbox. I think you can access the file here: Tribune Nov 1902

As an additional treat, it is hilarious to think that a MATCH company was a large, fearsome company just 100 years ago. Examining the full panoply of incentives that face our legislators and bureaucrats is at the heart of public choice theory. It turns out that economists are actually not permitted to do this. We can only think of incentives in the normal buying and selling decisions of simple items like matchsticks. Otherwise all bets are off because the public choice movement is a poorly veiled effort by us to normalize a whole bunch of unsavory “-isms.” Glad to know that I have unknowingly become an “-ist” for appreciating the key insight of the public choice school (which, by the way, ought to be used to supplement our thinking about political economy, it is in no way more than that, but that’s again an idea for another day).

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