01/12/2017

What A Skating Rink Can Tell Us About Life (And Government)

John Stossel, Fox News

My last Fox Business Network TV show airs Friday.

That news pleases some people, like internet trolls who write that they are happy to be "rid of that noted LIAR and falsifier of news" who produces "hit pieces." Another wrote, "Hopefully the cancer came back to finish him off."

To be clear, I'm not ending "Stossel" because I have cancer. I don't have cancer. I had a small tumor removed, and, best we can tell, it's gone. I didn't even have chemo or radiation.

I'm moving on because I want to create a new libertarian internet-based platform with Reason TV and become an educator with the Charles Koch Institute's new Media and Journalism Fellowship program. I will still make appearances on Fox News.

I had a good time hosting my own show for seven years, trying to find new ways to simplify economics and demonstrate the benefits of free markets.

Unfortunately, economic freedom can be hard to demonstrate. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is, well, invisible. How do I explain it on TV? Friedrich Hayek's phrase "spontaneous order" is clearer but still hard to show.

I was stumped until I read "Rinkonomics: A Window on Spontaneous Order" by George Mason University's Dan Klein. That inspired me to rent a skating rink.

Why? Well, imagine you've never seen a rink, and you are the government regulator who approves new businesses.

I tell you: I will flood that arena, freeze the water and then charge people money to strap sharp blades onto their feet and zip around on the ice. I will have few rules. Anyone can skate: young and old, skilled and unskilled.

Most any regulator would resist my bizarre skating idea. Hillary Clinton might say that for my rink to be approved it must have stoplights, skating police and barriers between skilled and unskilled skaters, adults and children. I must have someone with a megaphone direct the skaters to make sure they don't smash into each other.

So, I actually tried that. I rented a rink and bossed people around: "You, turn left, you slow down." Of course, the skaters hated that. And it didn't make skating safer. Some people, responding to my instructions, lost their balance and fell.

There is spontaneous order on a normal skating rink. Skaters make their own decisions. No regulator knows the wishes, skills and immediate intentions of individual skaters better than skaters themselves.

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Thanks to "bracket creep," the inflation of the 1970s pushed millions of taxpayers into higher tax brackets even though their inflation-adjusted incomes were not rising. To help offset this tax increase and also to improve incentives to work, save, and invest, President Reagan proposed sweeping tax rate reductions during the 1980s. What happened? Total tax revenues climbed by 99.4 percent during the 1980s, and the results are even more impressive when looking at what happened to personal income tax revenues. Once the economy received an unambiguous tax cut in January 1983, income tax revenues climbed dramatically, increasing by more than 54 percent by 1989 (28 percent after adjusting for inflation).

 

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