Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 144-145 of the Timbro edition of Roger Tanner’s translation of Johan Norberg’s powerful 2001 book, In Defense of Global Capitalism (original emphasis):

It is not the countries with abundant raw materials that have grown fastest, and often they are held back, because natural assets give rise to internal conflicts.  No, the main reason for the 20 per cent [of the world’s population] consuming 80 per cent of resources is that they produce 80 per cent of resources.  The 80 per cent consume only 20 per cent because they only produce 20 per cent of resources.  It is this latter problem we ought to tackle, the inadequate creative and productive capacity of the poor countries of the world, instead of waxing indignant over the affluent world producing so much.  The problem is that many people are poor, and not that certain people are rich.

It bears repeating – and repeatedly repeating – that there is no such thing as a truly natural resource.  All resources that have market value possess that value only because of human creativity and effort.  Nothing that we today regard as valuable “natural resources” – not land, not forests, not petroleum, not iron ore, not magnesium, not fish, not New York harbor, nothing – would be a resource had not human creativity devised ways to make that thing into something so very useful to the achievement of human purposes that that thing becomes scarce.

And one happy consequence is that, having made some raw materials scarce by discovering previously unknown and economically viable uses for these materials, human creativity – in economies that are at least reasonably free – is set to work, by the very incentives that are ‘natural’ to free markets, at the task of making these resources less and less scarce over time.

As Julian Simon so insightfully taught, the ultimate resource is the human mind.

Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 101-102 of Robert Higgs’s indispensable 2004 collection, Against Leviathan; specifically, it’s from Bob’s 2002 Independent Review essay “Governments Protect Us?” (original emphasis; footnotes excluded).

My skepticism springs in part from my improved understanding of just how horrendously destructive and murderous governments have been, not only by their involvement in wars with other governments, but more tellingly in their assaults on their own citizens.  According to the statistics compiled by R. J. Rummel, governments probably caused the deaths of some 170 million of their own citizens between 1900 and 1987, and the death toll has continued to rise during the past fifteen years. To this gruesome total must be added some 40 million others who perished in battle in the wars that the world’s governments plunged their populations into during the twentieth century.

Yes, yes, you may be saying, certain governments surely have acted murderously, but that bad behavior reflects not on government as such, but rather on the bad manners of the Chinese, the Russians, the Germans, and so forth.  Or perhaps you are objecting that the fault lies not in government as such but rather in communism, fascism, or some other ugly ideology that prompted the leaders of certain governments to misbehave outrageously.  These objections, however, cannot bear much weight, because the destructiveness of governments has spanned huge ranges of ethnicity and ideology.  In control of egregious governments have been Chinese, Russians, Germans, Japanese, Cambodians, Turks, Spaniards, Vietnamese, Poles, Pakistanis, Yugoslavs, British, Koreans, Croatians, Mexicans, Indonesians, Ugandans, Rwandans, Hutus, Nigerians, and a variety of other ethnic or national types.  The common denominator would seem to be not ethnicity or nationality, but government itself.  In control of appalling governments have been nationalists, tribalists, fascists, communists, socialists, and adherents of various other ideologies or of none at all.  Again, the common denominator would seem to be government itself.

Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 663 of Little, Brown’s Fifth “Bigelow” edition (1891) of Justice Joseph Story‘s storied 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States:

The constitution was, from its very origin, contemplated to be the frame of a national government, of special and enumerated powers, and not of general and unlimited powers.  This is apparent, as will be presently seen, from the history of the proceedings of the convention, which framed it; and it has formed the admitted basis of all legislative and judicial reasoning upon it, ever since it was put into operation, by all, who have been its open friends and advocates, as well as by all, who have been its enemies and opponents.  If the clause, “to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States,” is construed to be an independent and substantive grant of power, it not only renders wholly unimportant and unnecessary the subsequent enumeration of specific powers; but it plainly extends far beyond them, and creates a general authority in congress to pass all laws, which they may deem for the common defence or general welfare.  Under such circumstances, the constitution would practically create an unlimited national government.  The enumerated powers would tend to embarrassment and confusion; since they would only give rise to doubts, as to the true extent of the general power, or of the enumerated powers.

In my copy of the Bigelow edition, the above quotation is Sec. 909, but in this on-line version from the University of Chicago it’s Section 906.  I don’t know what the story is on this discrepancy.

Quotation of the Day…

… is from Thomas Jefferson’s 1791 reflections on the U.S. Constitution’s delegation of powers to the national government.  Jefferson’s quotation appears in the following passage from page 165 of Noble Cunningham’s outstanding 1987 biography of Jefferson, In Pursuit of Reason (emphasis original to Jefferson; footnote added):

He [Jefferson] then considered the general phrase of the Constitution that identified the purpose of the taxing power as “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”*  Congress, he said, was to levy taxes only for these purposes, not for any purpose they pleased.  ”In like manner they are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose.”  To interpret this provision in any other way would reduce the Constitution to “a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the U.S. and as they would be the sole judges of good or evil, it would also be a power to do whatever evil they pleased.”

* This is Section 1, Article 8‘s general-welfare clause.  It, along with Art. 1, Sec. 8′s “necessary and proper” clause, is misinterpreted routinely by “Progressives” (and others seeking Constitutional justification for unconstitutional expansions of national-government power) as a broad grant of permission from the Constitution’s framers to the Congress for the latter to do pretty much whatever that assembly’s members assure the public and the courts they feel is necessary and proper to promote Americans’ general welfare.