Sunday, April 07, 2013

Book: Bourbon for Breakfast

"Bourbon for Breakfast" is a collection of mostly fine essays from Jeffrey Tucker of the libertarian Mises Institute. Topics are wide ranging, including commerce, food, movies, health, crime, books, technology and even health and manners. The text starts off very strongly but as we move to the second half, covering broader topics such as health and manners and movies, the book loses some of its coherence and morphs into something much more heavily shaded by strong personal opinions. It's not bad when it changes, just unexpected. Overall, Bourbon for Breakfast is definitely worth dipping into though. What's more, this book can be had for free in the pdf form from the Mises Institute. At the very least, I'd recommend downloading the pdf and reading the fantastic section on Commerce. Chapter 14 is particulaly important, as it provides a straight forward explanation of one of the most important principles of economics: comparative advantage.

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Snippings for posterity:

"...The case of socially just coffee is the one that really gets my goat. The
coffee plantations that pay the highest wages and offer the most bene-
fits to their workers are the largest, most established, and most well-con-
nected plantations. The smaller, family-owned plantations can’t afford all
these things, but they are less likely to have access to the rating agencies
and export companies. Why, precisely, are consumers supposed to favor the
corporate big shots over the family farms, and do so in the name of enlight-
ened social consciousness? The whole campaign for fair-trade coffee is one
of the most bizarre and contradictory schemes that the dumb-dumb Left
has ever dreamed up."


"...Let’s review the oldest contribution of liberal thought: The market soci-
ety uses private gain to achieve social good, via the mechanism of mutually
beneficial exchange. I buy a jug of milk and the shopkeeper takes my money.
We both say “thank you” to each other because we have both given each
other a gift and we are both better off. The profits in the form of money, if
there are any after expenses, are used to expand production so that there
are ever more opportunities for trade. Multiply these little exchanges and
investments by the world’s population and you have an ever-more beautiful
and fruitful garden of peace and prosperity.

In this scheme, what is the role of giving to charitable causes? This is
provided for by the growth of capital and wealth. When there is enough left
over after providing for basic survival needs, people turn their attention to
widows, orphans, the sick, the symphonies, art galleries, saving salaman-
ders, promoting religion, establishing quilt-weaving societies, and billions
of other causes — all of which are evidence of rising prosperity.
The direction of causation here is important. First: markets. Second:
investment and exchange. Third: prosperity. Fourth: a zillion social causes
that fall into the category of charity, social justice, and the like. Why is it that
we are so fearful of telling the truth about this step-by-step plan for build-
ing civilization? Why are we so anxious to blur the distinctions between the

What’s more, if I want to give to charity, I’m perfectly capable of doing
this on my own and according to my own values. I do not need business
enterprises to intervene to help me along and show me the path to true
enlightenment. When someone comes along to dictate to me what my val-
ues should be, I tend to push back. I just want products and services; I’ll
take care of the rest on my own dime. What is so complicated about this?"


"...It is critically important for the employee to understand that he is
doing no favors to the employer by working there, nor is the employer to
be regarded as a generous distributor of funds, much less someone who is
under some positive moral obligation to dish out. The employee is there
because the nature of the world and the ubiquity of the scarcity of time
and resources make it necessary. In order for there to be peace amidst this
arrangement, there must be mutual benefit, always."


"...Employers will tell you that most
kids coming out of college are radically unprepared for a regular job. It’s
not so much that they lack skills or that they can’t be trained; it’s that they
don’t understand what it means to serve others in a workplace setting. They
resent being told what to do, tend not to follow through, and work by the
clock instead of the task. In other words, they are not socialized into how
the labor market works. Indeed, if we perceive a culture of sloth, irresponsi-
bility, and entitlement among today’s young, perhaps we ought to look here
for a contributing factor."


"...In so many ways, child-labor laws are an anachronism. There is no
sense speaking of exploitation, as if this were the early years of the industrial  
revolution  . Kids as young as 10 can surely contribute their labor in some
tasks in ways that would help them come to grips with the relationship
between work and reward. They will better learn to respect private forms of
social authority outside the home. They will come to understand that some
things are expected of them in life. And after they finish college and enter
the workforce, it won’t come as such a shock the first time they are asked to
do something that may not be their first choice. "

"...What lesson do we impart with child-labor laws? We establish early on who
is in charge: not individuals, not parents, but the state. We tell the youth
that they are better off being mall rats than fruitful workers. We tell them
that they have nothing to offer society until they are 18 or so. We convey
the impression that work is a form of exploitation from which they must be
protected. We drive a huge social wedge between parents and children and
lead kids to believe that they have nothing to learn from their parents’ expe-
rience. We rob them of what might otherwise be the most valuable early
experiences of their young adulthood."

"...Do you see what is happening here? The minimum wage, subsidized col-
lege loans, child work laws, and other interventions are conspiring to prolong
adolescence as long as possible—to the point that these young adults are see-
ing as much as a full decade of life experience pretty well stolen from them. "

"...Aside from the economic costs, the biggest cost is to the human charac-
ter. It encourages the worst possible value system during the critical years in
which character is shaped. Our country is caging people up for a quarter of
their lives in government holding tanks and then dumping them on a cold,
cruel world for which they are not prepared."


"...I was in a sporting goods store the other day that seemed to have every-
thing one can imagine. How much inventory? $10 million? $100 million?
It was all beyond belief, and trying to run the numbers in my head boggled
my mind. And here I was buying a $2 pair of socks. That’s a tiny chink out
of the inventory. They might clear 25 cents on that transaction after all the
expenses are paid. And yet they did it all for me and others like me: con-
sumers who are free to buy or not buy.
And then what does the store do with its profit after wages, expenses,
and inventory? Why, it has to replace those socks that I just bought so that
someone else can buy another pair."

"..To possess a consciousness about the two sides of enterprise is a bur-
den in some ways. It destabilizes you, and actually makes you wonder how
the system can work at all. "

" ...It is not enough that people participate unknowingly in the market economy. They
must understand it, and see how, and precisely how, their smallest and self-
ish contribution leads to the general good, and, moreover, they must desire
that general good."

"...An economically literate public is the foundation for keeping that amaz-
ing and wild machine called the market working and functioning for the
benefit of the whole of humanity."


"...Also, there is this cream that will triple the amount of moisture in your
hands, and there is a gel that will stop hair loss, and, also, it turns out that
I would have a greater ability to concentrate if I ate a good breakfast that
includes Frosted Mini-Wheats, each of which talks and has a charming
personality. And there’s this nose spray that will help me breath better and
play trumpet like a pro, which will thereby earn my son’s admiration, just
like on TV.  

...What the entire critique of advertising misses is the crucial and even
decisive economic issue that is solved by the principle of marketing. How
does a product or a service go from being a good idea or even a physical
possibility to being available for people and available for consumption?
Here is the major issue that has never been solved by any other system but
capitalism. And capitalism solves it in a way that is wealth-generating and
leads to constant improvements."


" might respond that these kids are not actually saying any-
thing useful. They are engaged in conversational junk, punctuated by
grunts of nothing. Well, productivity is a subjective concept. Meeting social
obligations, making another person feel connected, letting someone know
you care—these are all productive activities as understood by the indi-
vidual speaking. Who are we to say what constitutes valuable or valueless


"...Just have a look at what all men in the Great Depression wore. They
were smashing. The suit. The hat. The shoes. The ties. Everything was well
put together, among all races and classes of men. This isn’t just because all
this stuff was intrinsic to the culture. Men in all times and all places have had
the option of looking ridiculously unkempt. The point is that these men
were under pressure to perform, to show that they were valuable, to demon-
strate on sight that they were desirable commodities as workers."


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