Why We're Losing

How free market ideas suffer from being counterintuitive


People don't understand the private sector. They don't like it. Intuitively, it seems selfish. Most people are busy trying to run their own lives. They're grateful to politicians who want to take charge. It seems intuitive to think that a smart group of planners concerned about the collective good can accomplish more than free people pursing their own interests individually in the private sector. But history is filled with examples of how the solutions politicians propose create new problems without solving the old. Urban renewal wiped out entire neighborhoods without improving cities, mortgage subsidies created a damaging financial bubble, the war on drugs created a prison-industrial complex while barely taking a dent out of drug abuse. The list goes on and on.

The few politicians who manage, often against overwhelming odds, to successfully expand the sphere of private action rarely get rewarded for their trouble. Margaret Thatcher saved Britain—and got thrown out. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) may get recalled for trying to cut the budget and push back against public sector unions. Hong Kong went from Third World to First World in just 50 years because it had economic freedom. But when I went to Hong Kong and interviewed people, they didn't know why they were prosperous. They just talked about their problems and how government should solve them.

In Chile, Jose Piñera created a privatized Social Security system during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship that has helped save the country from bankruptcy. Most everyone in the country, which has since become free and democratic, has a personal savings account for retirement. But when I traveled to Chile, thinking that I would find people celebrating their financial independence, nobody was. They just said things like "My investment fund charges me too many fees for my private account."

In January, The New York Times ran a profile of a rising political star in Chile. Camila Vallejo is 23 years old, and she routinely inspires mass demonstrations. On the say-so of this young lady, thousands gathered in front of the presidential palace last June to protest educational inequalities by dressing like zombies and performing a choreographed routine to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Vallejo is attractive and brilliant. She's also a communist. Communism appeals to people, no matter how many times it fails.

Liberty is counterintuitive. It takes hard work to overcome the brain's attraction to simple-sounding solutions. It's not easy to convince people that sometimes the best way for governments to address a problem is to do less, not more. It's easier to admire the activist or politician who talks about helping the less fortunate than it is to cheer on a hustler who wants to get rich by selling you stuff. Those of us who see expanding the private sphere as the best way to help the most people have an uphill battle in making our case. 

There Always Ought to Be a Law

Most people see a world full of problems that can best be tackled via wisely applied laws. They assume it's just the laziness, stupidity, or indifference of politicians that prevents the problems from being fixed. But government is force, and government is inefficient. The inefficient use of force creates more problems than it solves. 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to make us safer in the air after 9/11, thanks to the supervision of an army of government employees rifling through our bags. Then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said, "You can't professionalize if you don't federalize." And that just makes sense to people. Since the TSA was created, the number of people it employs has quadrupled. By the time the public grew irritated at the intrusive and inefficient new airport security system, the bureaucracy was too entrenched to roll back.

But all it takes is one government success to justify 20 (or 200) failures. The best example of this is seat belts and cars. Government enthusiasts love citing the federal requirement that carmakers install seat belts, which took effect in 1968, to ridicule objections to any new law, no matter how unrelated. Even libertarians often feel like they have to say, "Well, OK. Maybe sometimes the government is useful."

While it's true that Volvo was advertising seat belts before they were required by the government, it's also true that most people didn't buy them. Seat belt adoption happened much faster because of the government mandate, which included varying state laws requiring people to actually wear those federally mandated seat belts. Aren't the estimated 10,000 lives saved each year for the last three decades worth it? 

The hard-core libertarian position is to say: Even in that case, maybe not. We just don't know. Because the mandate to install belts came from the federal government, we ended up with just one seat belt standard, and with further innovation being blocked. If you were an auto company and you thought you had a better seat belt, you'd be an idiot to introduce it, because if one person died, trial lawyers would pounce all over you. It's more prudent to just go with the standard. If there were competition, there might be six types of seat belts, all of which might be safer and more comfortable. Maybe more of us would wear them and maybe more than 30,000 total lives would have been saved in the long run.

So even the best example of benevolent legislation is full of holes. Still, the case for freedom doesn't have anywhere near the intuitive appeal of "Click it or ticket."

Government, Uncut

When the default setting is to solve every problem with a new law, it's hardly surprising that government continues to grow. What's especially disappointing in the 21st century, however, is that fewer people in politics even talk about cutting the overall size of government. Particularly when they're in power. 

When the GOP won control of the House of Representatives in 2010, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) claimed his party wanted to make big cuts. When he was sworn in, he declared, "Our spending has caught up with us.…No longer can we kick the can down the road." But when NBC anchorman Brian Williams asked him to name a single program "we could do without," Boehner said, "I don't think I have one off the top of my head." Even a Republican leader who was elected on fiscally conservative rhetoric didn't yet know what he wanted to cut? 

Eventually, Republicans said they'd start by cutting $100 billion out of the 2011 budget. The media were aghast. Liberals wailed about "draconian" cuts. They live in an alternate universe. Congress was planning to spend almost $4 trillion; $100 billion is less than 3 percent of that. Firms in the private sector make bigger cuts all the time without blinking an eye.

But not governments. All that union protest and shrieking fuss in Wisconsin happened without Gov. Scott Walker proposing to actually fire anyone; he was just changing rules governing public-sector compensation and bargaining rights. In a time of widespread fiscal crises, we need to make real decisions about which state workers are pulling their weight, and what our public-sector priorities are. If our representatives aspire to create sustainable budgets, they must ax entire programs, not just tinker with work rules.

I'm reminded of one "tough conservative," former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.). Abraham once sponsored a bill to abolish the Department of Energy. Good for him! He was right. The department should be abolished. Transfer its nuclear-weapons responsibilities to the Defense Department and kill the corporate welfare it gives to politically favored solar panel makers. Abraham saw the waste and wanted to end it. But then President George W. Bush appointed him to head the very department he wanted to kill. Suddenly Abraham changed his mind.

"Yeah, real quick," he tells me. "I changed it shortly after being asked to serve. It was very clear to me that we weren't ever going to abolish the department. There wasn't enough support for that, and the next best thing was to be in charge of it and try to change the way it operated so that at least the American taxpayers got their money's worth."

It would be nice if they got their money's worth, but I doubt they did. On Abraham's watch, the department's budget increased by 20 percent, and he continued to indulge in the tiny, wasteful boondoggles enjoyed by his predecessors. One money-losing solar panel project he approved wound up costing $147 million. 

Puerto Rican Promise

Not every politician is hopeless. You probably already know about the budget cutting efforts of various Republican governors: in addition to Walker, New Jersey's Chris Christie, Florida's Rick Scott, Ohio's John Kasich, and Michigan's Rick Snyder. But you may not know about Luis Fortuño, governor of Puerto Rico. Two years ago, Fortuño cut spending much more than any other U.S. governor. He fired 17,000 state employees. In response, union members held noisy demonstrations outside his house. They fought with police. They called him a fascist. Fortuño stood firm.

Fortuño had to make the cuts because Puerto Rico's economy was a mess. "Not just a mess," he tells me. "We didn't have enough money to meet our first payroll." Fortuño's predecessors grew Puerto Rico's government to the point that the state employed one out of every three workers (compared to an average of about one in seven on the U.S. mainland). The island was broke. So in 2009 the new conservative majority, the first in Puerto Rico in 40 years, finally cut spending.

What was cut? "Everything." Fortuño says, "I started with my own salary." The protesters said he should raise taxes instead. "Our taxes were as high as they could be," he says, "actually much higher than most of the country. So what we've done is the opposite." Fortuño reduced corporate taxes from 35 percent to 25 percent. He reduced individual income taxes. He privatized government agencies. "Bring in the private sector," says Fortuño. "They will do a better job. They will do it cheaper." 

But even though Puerto Rico's economy began improving almost immediately, Fortuño's cuts haven't made him popular. When I was in Puerto Rico in February, I asked everybody I could what they thought of the governor. Almost no one had nice things to say. And young people just hate him.

Most voters just don't get that it's a good thing when fewer people work for the state. It's not intuitive. Former Michigan Gov. John Engler eventually came to be appreciated for the economic booms that followed his Fortuño-style spending cuts, for example. But he was harshly criticized in the moment. Maybe the Puerto Rican governor also will eventually be hailed as a hero. In the meantime, though, he suffers from the same problem that afflicts many of his ideological allies: He appeals to the head, not the heart. 

When the union heavies who man Puerto Rico's tollbooths were caught stealing money, Fortuño expressed his outrage this way: "We have revenue leakage." That's hardly a way to win converts to your cause.

Thank Goodness for the Constitution

Economics is complicated. That's one more reason to be grateful for the Constitution: With its relatively simple rules, it helps keep government within bounds. Some Tea Party activists understand that, and it's one reason they call for a return to constitutional, limited government. 

But getting the majority of America to sign on to these ideas might require an impending crisis. Looking around the world, the next flashpoint after Greece will probably come elsewhere on the periphery of Europe or in Japan. The populations of those countries are graying—young workers are shrinking relative to the retirees they'll need to support—faster than America's. Watching their problems, we will get an advance look at the financial poison we are foisting on America's young people.

But I'm not sure voters will pay attention. If Americans didn't learn the folly of central planning from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stagnation of socialist economies around the world, they may not learn about the danger of unsustainable budgets from the catastrophes in Greece, Spain, and Japan. Maybe it will take events closer to home. That's why I have mixed feelings when I read about the stupid decisions made by legislatures in California, Illinois, and Connecticut. All three states' politicians continue pandering to public sector unions, and their citizens are suffering for it. But maybe in their misgovernance they will prove to be useful idiots. Maybe it will take the economic implosion of a major American state to wake people up.

It is depressing that the United States, a country founded on principles more libertarian than most any other, now seems incapable of admitting that government has gotten too big. One obstacle is that we've had things so good for so long that most of us simply don't believe, in our guts, that government controls can strangle the golden goose. Overseas, where people see the contrast between good and bad policies more starkly, they sometimes understand the need to make changes before we do. East Asian countries embraced markets and flourished. Sweden and Germany liberalized their labor markets and saw their economies improve. Even in the statist nations of Africa, there are growing numbers of free market activists critical of intrusive governments—and of the foreign aid that helps prop them up.

Taking Markets for Granted

Again, the enemy here is human intuition. Amid the dazzling bounty of the marketplace, it's easy to take the benefits of markets for granted. I can go check out the economic experiments in Chile or Hong Kong or Puerto Rico, stick a piece of plastic in the wall, and cash will come out. I can give that same piece of plastic to a stranger who doesn't even speak my language, and he'll rent me a car for a week. When I get home, Visa or MasterCard will send me the accounting— correct to the penny. That's capitalism! I just take it for granted.

Government, by contrast, can't even count votes accurately. Yet whenever there are problems, people turn to government. Despite the central planners' long record of failure, politicians promise that this time they will "fix" health care, education, the uncertainty of old age, etc., and people believe. Few of us like to think the government that sits atop us, taking credit for everything and taking our money under threat of imprisonment, could really be all that rotten. And look at all the good things around us! What, besides our unique government, could have brought us such plenty?

But it's not from the $3.8 trillion a year in spending, the 80,000 new pages of regulations a year, or even from democracy that we get such wonderful options as flexible contact lenses, Google, cellphones, increasing life spans, and so much food that even poor people are fat. We get those things from free markets. Government gets credit for good things even when it does little to bring them about.

All our potential achievements could be imperiled if we do not soon wake up to the fact that big government impedes rather than creates. The great 20th-century libertarian H. L. Mencken lamented, "A government at bottom is nothing more than a group of men, and as a practical matter most of them are inferior men.…Yet these nonentities, by the intellectual laziness of men in general…are generally obeyed as a matter of duty [and] assumed to have a kind of wisdom that is superior to ordinary wisdom."

There is nothing that government can do that we cannot do better as free individuals—as groups of individuals, working together voluntarily, not at the point of a gun or under threat of a fine. Without big government, our possibilities are limitless.

But it's a hard sell. Things continue to get better in a free society, but nobody is out in front of the camera saying, "Yay for the marginal improvements that come with free markets!" It's not as compelling or newsworthy as a report on someone who goes bankrupt because he got sick. If we are to foster prosperity, we must find better ways to promote the virtues of liberty. 

John Stossel is the host of Stossel, which airs Thursdays on the Fox Business Network at 9 p.m. Eastern time and is rebroadcast on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 p.m. and midnight Eastern time. He is the author, most recently, of No They Can't: Why Government Fails—but Individuals Succeed, from which this essay is adapted, with permission from Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster. © 2012 JFS Productions, Inc.

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  1. If Romney is smart, Luis Fortuno will be the VP.

    Free market ideas are suffering because most people have never seen them in action.

    1. But are Puerto Ricans “natural born citizens”?

      1. McCain was born at Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone. I don’t see how Puerto Rico would be any different.

        1. So the answer is “maybe not”?

  2. I thought it was just because people are so dang stupid.

    1. And lazy.

      1. and they like free stuff.

        1. And liberal.

          1. They already said “stupid, lazy, and like free stuff”.

            1. That’s true, but it still felt good to re-emphasize it in one word.

              1. Brevity is the soul of wit.

              2. Brevity is the soul of wit.

      2. this and this…
        but, but, nobody told me i had to be responsible. *sniff, sniff*

        1. Don’t worry Bucky. It’s not your fault. It’s actually a massive cis privilege conspiracy that keeps you from succeeding. Definitely not anything you’re doing or failing to do.

          But if you give me unlimited power I can fix it. I can make it fair.

  3. Stossel is right that free market ideas don’t have a lot of traction, but wrong about the reason. It’s not so much that they’re counter-intuitive, it’s just that people get them much more clearly once they’ve seen them in action. To the 19-year-old college retard who has never run or even worked in a business, the degree to which businesses bend over to cater to their customers, for instance, isn’t obvious.

    The real problem is that something that is inherent to humans–trade and bartering–which is something that will never go away, has become politicized. It has become the subject of retarded, stupid political philosophy, and when that happenes, ultrastupidity abounds. It’s like religion: once you think you can refashion the fundamental makeup of man, only misery and suffering are going to be the result.

    1. add to that sideshows about income inequality which, sadly, is gaining traction because folks refuse to consider that the marketplace tends to reward good ideas and not bad ones. The concept that a company which provides a product/service will make far more than one which does not is, for some reason, hard for many to grasp.

      1. Grasping concepts requires thought.

        Sadly, most people don’t think. They emote.

        1. I feel that thin girls are sexy.

          1. Depends on with what part of your person you are feeling them.

          2. I feel thin sexy girls.

              1. You’re right. I feel one thin sexy woman. My wife.

                I didn’t settle for the first fatty to bob my knob.

                  1. Enjoy your fatty, boss.

      2. the marketplace tends to reward good ideas and not bad ones.

        Atlas Shrugged Part I vs. Fahrenheit 9/11. Discuss.

        The market is not perfect — it is merely better overall than the alternatives. Let’s not sound like the left’s caricatures of libertarianism, shan’t we?

        1. “tends to” is a pretty moderate wording.

        2. “good” needs to be qualified. It rewards those who produce what people want, in the environment given (e.g. subject to political constraints, etc)

          Your example given is an example of equivalent goods. And I use the term “goods” as in things people consider consider good for themselves (where the word derives), in contrast to “bads”.

      3. wareagle|5.8.12 @ 11:03AM|#
        add to that sideshows about income inequality

        Which really isn’t what its about… that’s just a code word.

        The poverty rate in america has been comparatively flat for the last 30yrs (between 9-13%). What irks them so is the idea that Rich People have gotten richer. In the liberal zero-sum universe, any accumulation of wealth is interpreted to have come at the expense of someone else. So really what most progressives want is simply to punish the wealthy. Even if they get nothing out of it. Complete shadenfreude.

        one wonders why the idea of income “equality” is even taken seriously at all. Do people *really* think there’s no difference between ditch diggers and brain surgeons?

        Add to that the insane notion that government actually “balances” disparities by taxing… well, everyone, all the time, in every way possible. In their own logic, the ideal society would be if *everyone had nothing*. Totally Equal. Why that is a desirable thing escapes me.

        1. Envy is a very basic human emotion. There’s not much you can do about it.

        2. It’s also the concept of noblesse oblige. The common people realize that they will most likely never be rich, and so it is expected that the 1% give back to the nation, in the form of taxes.

          Add to that certain methods of making a lot of money seem inherently parasitic, such as Bain Capital and the derivatives markets.

    2. I remember during the TARP debates. People would tell MNG that the right thing to do was let the banks fail. That new and better banks would grow back in their place and the economy would come back on its own.

      MNG’s response was that was just religious faith. The idea that the world can work itself out on its own without the guiding hand of government or coordinated collective action is just completely foreign to many or indeed most people.

      1. When I was in college, the local news crew stopped by campus to interview students about TARP and the stimulus. I was the only Econ major they talked to, and the only to speak against it. Naturally, my segment was cut.

        1. 5-6 years ago I was interviewed along with my wife on a “local reaction to crime on the metro” story. the second I said “concealed handgun” they stopped filming.

      2. To be fair, your claim that new and better banks would arise from the ashes sounds pretty faith-based too.

        What was certain was that the situation we were getting into by doing TARP was intolerable. While I consider myself an adherent of free markets, I can’t honestly say I was sure that everything would be peachy if we just let the banks fail. There could have been some very bad problems (probably only temporary).

        1. To be fair, your claim that new and better banks would arise from the ashes sounds pretty faith-based too.

          Faith is belief without experience to back it up. There is plenty of sound theory that what would have arisen would have been better, and ample historic precedent.

          That isn’t generally what we call “faith”.

          1. Yes and no. The problem is that there are mountains and mountains of rules and regulations telling banks how to run their business, to the point where they might as well be run by the government.
            So what arises from the ashes can’t be that significantly different since it is still bound by the truckloads of government rules.

            1. 1,600 car companies have failed in America. The Big 3 are really just the Last 3. And yet, cars are everywhere.

          2. There is plenty of sound theory that what would have arisen would have been better

            …which isn’t experience…

            and ample historic precedent

            …such as?

            The interventionists have the Great Depression as a go-to example of things getting worse after banks were allowed to fail. What have you got?

            (and yes, I know Hoover was economically interventionist in other ways and Smoot-Hawley was a problem too, but we’re talking about bank failures specifically)

            1. and ample historic precedent

              …such as?

              This wasn’t our first financial crisis, with bank failures, etc., you know.

              Lots of banks, big money center banks among them, have failed. And lo, they were replaced by other banks.

            2. The Great Depression was “Great” precisely because of intervention.

              The previous depression of 1920 is one example of a very fast recovery–within 1 year–when absolutely no intervention was done.

    3. Not to mention I haven’t met the system yet that can stamp out human competitiveness. Most of the liberals I know are uncompetitive touchy-feely types who feel no compunction whatsoever using government-sanctioned violence to force others to not compete with each other. Yet even in the Soviet Union the black market flourished and lots of people got rich.

      1. That is why communism was both so murderously oppressive and such a spectacular failure. Communism can’t work unless everyone buys into the collective and only works for the collective. Once someone stops doing that the whole system falls apart. If you so much as grow tomatoes in your back yard rather than working on the collective farm, you are subverting the system.

        Well of course people are always going to act for themselves. They are going to game the system and give out benefits to their cronies and steal office supplies and do all kinds of things that undercut the collective. For communism to succeed, you have to stop that. You have to create a new man who is only interested in the collective.

        Of course you can’t do that. But they tried. And they generally tried by killing or imprisoning anyone who had a false consciousness. But no amount of killing and oppression changes who people are. So they just succeeded in creating failed murderous societies.

        1. Collectivists believe they can change human nature.

          1. They would be wrong; otherwise, they would conform perfectly to the standards that they impose. Which would…go against human nature.

          2. So do anarchocapitalists, apparently.

        2. One of the most super-duper-schmooper liberal people I know regularly plays Texas Holdem. For real money. And yet he insists that competitiveness can be stamped out. The cognitive dissonance is totally out of control.

          1. You have got to be kidding me! I think my “REALLY?!” hymen just broke.

            1. I’m totally serial! He excuses his competitive spirit by saying that as long as the game is set up the way it is, he might as well play (referring to poker and markets and business). The ultimate unprincipled douche.

              1. The ultimate unprincipled douche.

                An average liberal.

              2. as long as the game is set up the way it is, he might as well play (referring to poker and markets and business). The ultimate unprincipled douche.

                As long as everybody knows the rules going in, why not take their money? They consented to the game when they joined it, and shouldn’t complain if they lose.

                This assumes, of course, that you don’t cheat. Although “cheating” in the context of a corporocratic/crypto-fascist state/economy is a difficult concept to pin down.

        3. John, most people don’t realize how far the commies went; Everybody buys the excuse that real communism wasn’t tried that the Bolshevik’s merely played lip-service to justify their dictatorial power and privilege.

          The reality is that under Lenin, they tried to adopt communism for real, and it was a disaster. Shortly after Lenin siezed power in 1918, he decreed that all trade was illegal, everything was nationalized, and everybody was ordered to turn over all production to the state (in the case of farmers it was surplus production). They thought it would work, and it resulted in such a serious famine and privations that by 1921 Lenin had to abandon it to avoid ruling over a nation of corpses, moldering factories and untended fields.

      2. This is why I always try to convince people that capitalism is not a system. It is just what people do. I hear a lot of arguments that “imposing” capitalism or free market economics is as bad as imposing communism or something like that, but the fact is that capitalism is just letting people do what they do. All the other systems think that they can fix everything.

        1. Emergent order.

    4. once you think you can refashion the fundamental makeup of man, only misery and suffering are going to be the result

      I might have to steal that line the next time I get into a debate with my left-wing sister. The fatal conceit of Marxism is the misguided belief that you can create a “new man” who will be motivited only by the desire to better himself and society.

      It doesn’t work that way, you can’t make people better. And any attempt to do so will invariably be at the point of a gun. Why else are communist regimes such repressive shithole police states?

      “But they have universal health care”. Ugh, spare me.

      1. Tell your left wing sister about the woman I heard on the radio who had escaped Soviet Russia. She reported that the planned economy was planned by men, who had no use for feminine hygiene products, therefor there weren’t any. The younger girls in the family had to wash the ‘rags’ of the older women. But hey, free health care!

  4. People refuse to accept that the world is not and cannot be made perfect or even predictable. The free market is messy and uncontrollable. People instinctively hate that. They both feel the need to remedy bad results and instinctively resist change. For this reason crackpot socialist ideas designed to stop change and remedy bad results will always appeal to people no matter how many times they fail.

    1. Life is not fair, and life cannot be made fair, because life is random.

      1. Life is fair. Just because things happen people don’t like doesn’t make life unfair. It just means they need to learn it isn’t what happens to you, but what you do about it that matters.

        1. Life is fair.

          This is a value judgement based on the notion that “random” is “fair”.

          Our society seems to have a love/hate relationship with random. Some days it’s fair, and some days it’s not.

          1. I’d say the randomness makes life unfair. But that’s just one of those hard facts we have to accept. Sometimes shit just happens. I think it is good to expect some degree of fairness in interactions with other people, but the universe certainly doesn’t owe you fairness. Fairness is something people invented because it helps them get along and live in a society.

      2. Depends on what you call life, what you call fair, and what you call random.

        1. Can’t tell you what fair is. But most people have a gut feeling for what is not fair.

          Your good friend watches his 10-year-old daughter die a slow and painful death from kidney failure. Most people consider that not fair.

          Your wife’s aunt finds herself shivering in the basement after a F5 tornado takes everything above the foundation and spreads it far and wide. Most people consider that not fair.

          The problem is that lots of people think that the jackass living off the inherited wealth earned by his dead father is somehow not fair.

          And a small number of people think that borrowing six figures to finance a degree in puppetry and then not being able to pay back the loan is somehow not fair to the people that freely borrowed the money.

          So I’ve reached the conclusion that all of life is not fair. It makes these dicussions so much simpler.

  5. It seems intuitive to think that a smart group of planners concerned about the collective good can accomplish more than free people pursing their own interests individually in the private sector.

    Is intuition is another term for knee-jerk human defense mechanisms? Otherwise these thoughts aren’t intuitive, they’re laziness and religiousness.

    People want to think a group of smart planners are (or ought to be) in charge for the same reason they want to believe in an invisible man in the sky and some guy in a red suit and pitchfork.

    No different than when a person has a run of good fortune they generally attribute the results to skill, and a run of bad fortune is attributed to bad luck or other evil people. The very thought that good fortune could be pure luck and that bad outcomes could very well be the result of skill (or lack thereof) scares the shit out of most people so they simply refuse to consider the possibilities.

    Refusing to consider possibilities isn’t intuition, it’s ignorance.

    1. People want to think that because to think that implies that they can control things. The free market is really scary. There is nothing that says it is going to work out for you. Things can go badly. You can choose an industry that is doomed to perish in the process of creative destruction. And you’re prospects are doomed with it. And there is no way of knowing if that will happen. People understandably hate insecurity and unpredictability. Believing in planners is one way of dealing with that.

    2. The belief that everything will work out with no one planning it sounds pretty faith-based too.

      If an individual takes that laissez-faire attitude toward their own individual economy, they will probably wind up working at McDonalds till they’re 65. So it seems reasonable to extrapolate that someone should be planning the economy too.

      1. That only holds true if you believe the bullshit collectivist nonsense that “we” are the state. Otherwise your analogy fails.

        I can and should plan my own personal economy. I cannot and should not plan it for others. All gov’t is planning for others, so it in no way holds that if one is laissez-faire towards the federals, then one must also make no planning in ones own life.

        1. It doesn’t require belief that “we are the state”, it only requires belief that what works best for an individual should work best for the whole society. Which is a very natural assumption (however wrong it is).

          I can and should plan my own personal economy. I cannot and should not plan it for others.

          I agree, but in a pragmato-utilitarian sense this is not at all obvious. I would even say it’s counterintuitive.

          1. It possibly is. I do think that if the thrust of all this is that we need to get people to start thinking with their heads instead of feeling with their hearts, then Stossel is just as guilty of ignorning nature and wanting to create a New Man as the communists.

      2. The individual plans for himself. “Planning the economy” is making plans for others, whether they want you to or not. Big difference.

        1. We think it’s a big difference.

          A person who is just glancing at the issue for the first time almost certainly wouldn’t think it’s a big difference.

  6. There are two ways to obtain goods: Production or plunder.

    There are two ways to get someone to do something: Persuasion or force.

    Production and persuasion are hard. Plunder and force are easy.

    That is why people prefer government over markets.

    It’s easy.

      1. Are you Dave Hester or something?

    1. It’s easy until it ain’t. It ain’t easy when they run short of victims and turn their eye on you.

      1. The Catholic Church is just now realizing that.

    2. I’m borrowing that.

      1. The longer version is here:

    3. It’s also what attracts people to careers on Wall Street.

    4. It’s also what attracts people to careers on Wall Street.

  7. Free market ideas may not be doing well now but they’re doing better on net than they were in the fifties and sixties. The LBJ landslide was as much about Goldwater talking about scrapping some New Deal programs as it was about him wanting to nuke the Vietnamese.

    I think one of the things that have hurt them is that people think that what Reagan and the Bushes gave them was a free market.

    But while acceptance of free market ideas slipped badly 2001-2008 it’s still higher than it was in the postwar years.

  8. free market ideas also include the implicit notion that failure may be the outcome. After a generation’s worth of everyone-gets-a-trophy and the whole self-esteem movement, failure is viewed as a grievous wrong that only govt can right, not as a potential result of an idea.

    Equality of opportunity is confused with equality of result. Liberals today are obsessed with the “unfairness” of person- or company-A earning more than B, that govt must somehow step in correct that. Most people have an inherent sense of fair play and words like “fairness” are much more benign than terms like govt meddling.

    1. free market ideas also include the implicit notion that failure may be the outcome. After a generation’s worth of everyone-gets-a-trophy and the whole self-esteem movement, failure is viewed as a grievous wrong that only govt can right, not as a potential result of an idea.

      I never bought this “just so” conservative radio talking point.

      1. I think it assumes that kids believe all the bullshit that is taught to them. Maybe they do. But if they do, they are the first ones in history like that.

        1. They didn’t give out participation ribbons at your school, Randian?

          1. No, not really. Not that I remember.

          2. They gave them out at my school, but those of us who won actual awards thought they were bullshit. We were generally sequestered from the “participants” due to AP classes, college-prep stuff and sports instead of mandatory gym class, so maybe a lot of them loved the idea? I don’t know, but everyone I ever talked to about it loathed sitting through that crap.

            1. Man, am I glad I went to school before that shit started. Parents AND students in my area and time would have laughed their collective asses off at the idea of “everyone gets a prize”.

      2. I don’t see why you dismiss it as a talking point. If you are brought up in a system that refuses to acknowledge the existence of failure or assign consequences to it, then it becomes difficult to recognize and even more difficult to handle. No idea is guaranteed to be successful. The Dyson guy built five thousand prototypes before hitting a vacuum that sold. But no one wants to hear about failure as a teacher; they just want someone to ensure that failure never happens. Good luck with that.

        1. There is no system that can exist and not acknowledge the existence of failure.

          Your conservative talking points are boring and stupid. Go share them with your fellow travelers at National Review and spare us the tedium.

          1. Stories about participation certificates, trophies for all, and no keeping score are legion. Their manifestation is the Occutards. But you keep beating the talking points drum. It’s like no ever said “too big to fail”.

            1. *yawn*

              The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers — Attributed to Socrates

              Complaining about “kids these days” is as old as the hills, and it’s fucking boring.

              1. Them whippersnappers and their Beastie Boys music. It’ll never last.

                1. Them whippersnappers and their Beastie Boys music. It’ll never last.

                  Just ask MCA… too soon?

              2. Let’s say that actually is a quote from Socrates, just for fun. Socrates lived in Athens during the height of the Peloponnesian war; a 27-year war with Sparta which Athens would eventually lose, ending its golden age. Indeed, nothing would ever be the same again for Athens. Since then they’ve always been under someone else’s boot, and have never approached their former level of cultural achievement.

                Now, there are a lot of reasons why Athens failed. A great many of them have to do with things like the cupidity and foolishness of their leaders. The opinion was widespread that Athenians had forgotten how to do the things that made them great, and had instead allowed luxury to weaken them. Obviously, pointing out the indiscipline of the young is a part of that analysis.

                Of course the entire world did not end with Athens demise in the Peloponnesian War, and I guess that’s what you’re trying to say by calling such complaints “boring”. But they did permanently lose what Athens was, and societal decline was at least arguably part of the reason.

                When you call things “boring” and “talking-points”, and “old as the hills”, you’re not making a real argument, anyway. What are you trying to say? What if the above-quoted material attributed to Socrates was correct? What if it was part of the reason for the end of the Athens as Socrates knew it? Now you’ll quote Cato or Tertullian or something at me. Don’t. Make an argument that makes some sense.

                1. In other words, what Enoch said.

              3. So you’re saying 2012 US society is similar to the declining Athenian society of Socrates’ time? The one that was conquered a couple of decades later?

                1. Yes. I am saying that the two are similar.

                  1. Actually that was intended as a reply to Randian, as I hadn’t yet seen your comment which nailed it on the head in more depth.

                  2. Enoch, the point he was making, is that if every generation were really as degenerate as the elders at the time believed, then the entire would would have devolved into barbarism a long time ago. Since it obviously didn’t, and civilization soldiers on, it stands to reason that every generation is not, in fact, massively inferior to the one that came before it, even though adults always seem to be thinking that.

                    1. *…entire world would have devolved…

                    2. Who was arguing that every generation is massively inferior to the one before it?

                    3. Gojira,

                      I don’t see a lot of evidence that adults “always” seem to be thinking that the previous generation is massively inferior to the one before it. Certainly, the idea crops up from time to time.

                      An alternate heuristic would be that civilizational decline is an ever-present threat, and that indiscipline of the youth is indeed a marker of same. This would naturally mean that a lot of people–ones who were interested in cabining such decline–would have written on the subject.

          2. Your conservative talking points are boring and stupid. Go share them with your fellow travelers at National Review and spare us the tedium.

            TEAM NOT ON A TEAM strikes again.

      3. We had IALAC signs. That stood for “I Am Lovable And Capable”. Every time someone made us feel bad, a little piece of our IALAC sign got torn off. In other words, our signs got torn when we were “Othered”.

        This was in 1984. In 7th grade. I shudder to imagine how much further this bullshit has come since then.

        1. We had IALAC signs. That stood for “I Am Lovable And Capable”.

          I just died a whole lot more inside.

        2. Hooooooly crap…. that’s pathetic

        3. I should say this was in Vermont, so, ya know – take it with a hippy grain of salt.

        4. We had those at leadership camp in Illinois a few years later too. It was the year of the cicadas, I don’t remember which one.

          I got kicked out of my cabin for having nocturnal flatulence issues, the bastards.

        5. No need for IPECAC signs back then.

        6. That sounds horrible. Doesn’t that just remind you that people were mean to you?

          It has always seemed to me that all of the self esteem boosting stuff is really misguided. People with self esteem problems really just need to be told, early in life, that lots of people are smarter and cooler and better looking and better in every way than you are. That’s just how life is and you have to deal with it.

  9. Talking about the free market winning or losing is silly. The free market cannot lose, in sort of the same way gravity cannot lose.

    1. This is true, but the free market can be fucked with, royally, in many ways, and gravity cannot. And the free market is consistently and relentlessly fucked with.

      “You win again, gravity!”

      1. Some day we will get a real progressive Congress and they will repeal that damned law of supply and demand.

        Yeah, the “free market” is just an expression of human nature. People seem to have forgotten that. Even the communists were smart enough to understand you had to create a new kind of person to make communism work and end the free market. Our current breed of bonobos is too retarded to even understand that.

        1. You mean “market”, not “free market”.

          A free market is one that is free from coercion. As Epi states above, it’s not hard to destroy the freeness of a market.

      2. This is true, but the free market can be fucked with, royally, in many ways, and gravity cannot. And the free market is consistently and relentlessly fucked with.

        This is because people want guaranteed favourable outcomes, Epi. If the game can be skewed to one’s favourable benefit, it will be so.

    2. The free market cannot lose, in sort of the same way gravity cannot lose.

      And the same way that irony of dogmatic objectivists calling leftists “faith based” cannot lose.

  10. No people are just stupid and immature. The Internet has put a vast amount of information at everyone’s fingertips, yet people cling to the talking points of their political mindset. They also don’t want a free market because that requires responsibility and if they require Joe schmo to be responsible, then THEY will need to be responsible. Too many americans have said, it is just “too hard” and “I don’t have time” to understand what’s going on. I will simply trust (insert political party here) and they will make it all better. I bet I am not the only one attempting to wake folks up and having this result. I just disagree with Stossel that free markets are counterintuitive. History says free markets provide prosperity; corporate cronyism leads to facism, genocide, and war. Hence, people are stupid because they have information (which would make them merely ignorant), they simply don’t want to accept it (thereby making them stupid).

  11. Your infrequent dose o’ stoopid, this time courtesy of Paulie Krugnuts:…..98070.html

    1. No, thank you. Couldn’t you find us something less painful, like another video of a guy getting beat to death by pigs or something?

      1. Or a man’s nutsack coated with acid? I suppose… but there’s just something about a Krugnuts screed that is hard to beat – though he, himself, is imminently beatable. With a crowbar.

    2. Infrequent? Doesn’t he have a regular column?

      1. Only if he remembers to take his Metamucil.

    3. Christ he’s dull.

      Clearly, what we’re interested in is involuntary unemployment. People who aren’t working because they have chosen not to work, or at least not to work in the market economy–retirees who are glad to be retired, or those who have decided to be full-time housewives or househusbands–don’t count. Neither do the disabled, whose inability to work is unfortunate, but not driven by economic issues.

      There are plenty of people who have chosen not to work simply because someone else is footing the damn bill, not because they have saved enough (fuck you Krugman, you inflationist asshole) to enable that behavior.

  12. I agree that the free market can seem counter-intuitive, especially to people who just want to make the world a better place, damnit.

    For me the principle that top-down, well anything, but especially prices, destroys information from Hayek (or at least that’s where I encountered it) is the most elegant and profound argument for the free market.

  13. Remember too that the market is always in flux. If you are doing well now, you probably won’t be doing well in the future unless you adapt. That means that those who are doing well at any given time have a vested interest in freezing the market in place. This means the powers that be are nearly always going to object to a true free market.


    Workers in Chicago told to dress down to avoid protesters during the NATO summit. We now have a roving mob running around the country terrorizing people with apparently no legal ramifications. When you combine that with many metro areas systematically disarming people, how long before we degenerate into French Revolution style mob politics?

    1. I hope the NATO protesters go full-apeshit and burn and pillage the fuck out of things, just to prove to the world how violent the left-wing really is at heart.

      I know, it’s counterintuitive to the nonaggression thingy, but it would be worth it as long as no innocent people die. The far-left needs to perpetrate their own version of a Kent State-level atrocity, so they can be exposed as the disgusting vermin they are.

      Of course, all this would hinge on the world viewing such carnage as “wrong” – given the way things are headed, it would probably be viewed as “justice for the downtrodden”.

      Sad, sad shit.

      1. That is a nice idea but the media would just ignore it or blame it on someone else or talk about how it shows that America just isn’t going to take it anymore.

  15. Bonus stoopid, courtesy of RFK’s daughter:…..r=Business

    1. What chance did those kids really have? After their dad died they were left alone with a total nutcase as a mother. The rumor is that Jackie left the country in the late 60s to get her kids away from the RFK kids and their wackjob mother.

      1. It was a fitting end when the last Kennedy left politics… it was salty ham tears double-plus goodness. And, hopefully, there will never be another Kennedy offspring in politics.

        But, yeah, the Kennedy kids story is kinda like watching the Jacksons, though that’s not exactly Jermaine to the story.


        1. Let me guess, you will be here all week.

          1. Try the veal.

            And now, the comedic stylings of Shecky SugarFree!

        2. I love puns, FIFY, but that one was just beyond the pale. As is Micheal. You deserve to roll in thumbtacks and then take a hot epsom salt bath.

        3. Joseph P. Kennedy III, RFK’s grandson, is running for Congress in MA-4.

          1. That is, he’s aiming for Barney Frank’s seat.

            1. Good night, everyone!

              1. Tulpa the White, everyone! Give ‘im a hand!

    2. Last week’s events are merely a foreshadowing of the devolution that is inexorably propelling us toward a corrupt venal and petro kleptocracy.

      Oooh, thesaurusy.

      1. When I see the word “devolution”, I think of DEVO.

          1. I was thinking more “We’re Through Bein’ Cool”, but that song works as well.

      2. Ha! Remember when you were a college freshman and you thought that “Shift F7” was the height of erudition?

        Looks like ol’ whatsherface never grew out of it. Arrested development is a bitch.

    3. From the comments:
      “The oil barons around the world are having their field days. Let them enjoy them while they lasts. Some day, they, like the rest of us, will walk or ride bikes to work, which is not a bad idea as obesity is a plague in this nation.”

      Unless they repent their wicked ways, Mother Gaia will strike them down! But no, environmentalism is not a religion.

      1. That entire comment is just one non-sequitur after another. Fuckin-a.

  16. I think a big part of the problem is that nobody wants to depict their own government as innately WRONG. It’s always “Well, our government has good intentions, BUT…”. The mechanism of government is such that money given to it to spend on the poor is going to stick to the hands of the government. Not that it will be stolen; it will just STICK. It will go to superficially obviously necessary overhead. Offices. Office chairs. Computers. Staff. Staff health care. A charity that ran with the kind of overhead that a government office has would be investigated and shut down.

    It’s HARD to say this. It’s hard to hold it as a position. But it’s necessary.

    Any money given to the State to be spent on the poor will get to the poor only after the comfort of the State has been assured.

    1. Most people buy into the belief that “we are government, government is us”, which is just plain wrong.
      As a result they take criticism of government personally.
      That makes constructive conversation impossible.

    2. ^This, both CSP and Sarc. It’s the emporer’s new clothes dilemma – nobody wants to contradict the conventional wisdom. Nobody wants to admit they’ve been living a lie. Better the devil one knows…

      1. Three-way ^this, Tonio.

        Actually, “we are government” is “a tiny, tiny percentage of hand-picked, well-heeled politicians are government”. Rarely can an average dude/ette win at the Game of Congress without being chosen, connected, and guided up the ladder of power.

  17. Why is there a Stossel post on Tuesday? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here.

  18. My favorite Milton Friedman quote puts it succinctly: One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.

    As others have pointed out, this lesson is lost on know-nothing twenty-somethings, unfortunately.

    Kudos to Stossel for trying to knock some sense into their heads.

    1. I generally like MF but that’s sloppy reasoning. You have to figure out whether the results were inherent to the policy or influenced by outside forces.

  19. Another reason for this is that most working adults are employees, not employers. This is a big change from 100+ years ago, when a much, much larger portion was self-employed, mainly in agriculture. A large chunk of the population has been fully conditioned to the employee mindset — little initiative, collecting a paycheck while someone “higher” makes the tough decisions involved in resource allocation and long-range planning. They view government as the uber-employer, giving them health-coverage, a pension, a minimum salary, etc.

  20. I posted this on a different page but I think it’s a good illustration of how government welfare is confused with charity (and how clueless the liberal media is).…..omas-reese

  21. This is related to my General Theory of Liberalism: that liberals don’t understand incentives.

    They treat the symptom without realizing the unintended consequences their policies will create.…..alism.html

    1. Slight refinement:

      They treat the symptom without realizing the unintended consequences acknowledging the foreseeable and undesirable results of their policies will create.

  22. I sort of wonder whether using the environment as an analogy would be of any use in defending free markets with a more rational leftist.

    They’re both homeostatic systems of emergent order. They’re both impossible to fully comprehend, which is why large-scale changes to engineer them often have unexpected and disastrous impacts. Environmentalists worry about the dangers posed by monoculture crops, but that’s exactly what happened to our banking system through excessive regulation (genetic manipulation, effectively).

    Strictly speaking, the economy is just the part of the ecosystem related to the behavior of organisms belonging to homo sapiens.

  23. One thing we need to do above all is stop the infighting between the various pro-liberty movements, whatever people call them.

    Fellow Travelers and Purity Tests


    Can’t we libertarians all get along?

    1. A lot of libertarians don’t really care about liberty, they just want to be edgy. These are the kind of “libertarians” who spend more time dissecting Milton Friedman’s flaws than they do Paul Krugman’s.

      1. Don’t you mean “Paul Kuntman”?

  24. Government doesn’t always fail, and markets sometimes do. It’s pretty cheap to pick out a few government failures and ignore its daily successes–without which there would be no functioning society in which a market can operate. Yeah, you have to have a good form of government and then good governance, just as with any enterprise.

    Behind Stossel’s elementary fascination with the market mechanism is advocacy for a specific set of policies, ones that have been discredited by the recent economic crisis, if not long before. Thatcher-Reaganism was an experiment that ultimately failed, though not if its goal was only to concentrate wealth in the hands of an increasingly small number of people. At providing widespread prosperity and fiscal soundness, it was a spectacular failure.

    There are no gods for the same reason there are no unicorns. Among the magical beings that don’t exist is the perfect market. Capitalism has always required some level of government, and while it’s legitimate to argue about the extent, you can’t dispute that basic claim. So all we’re really arguing about is what kind of policy outcomes we want. Wealth increasingly in the hands of a plutocratic elite, or dispersed more broadly? Thatcher-Reaganism gets you one, FDR-style liberalism gets you another. And you don’t get to say you favor plutocracy because it’s the only possible outcome to a set of immutable moral premises. If your morality leads to bad outcomes, then it should be reexamined.

    1. Bullshit. There are a number of policies that are obviously anti-market to great detriment, and that are clearly stupid. Our whole college system is stupid and ineffective. I mean, we’re still using the no=school-in-summer system from the farming days. What the fuck is the point of that? How is not practicing something for 4 months straight anything but the worst way to learn something? WTF? Not to mention bullshit degrees like communications and sociology. And why do teachers have tgo go to college? I’m pretty sure most people could teach 2nd graders to write a frontwards R with just a high school education.
      And that’s just one section of our economy

      Oh, and I’m sure you’d bitch and moan about how higher education would be expensive without subsidisation. Well, OK then, I actually agree. But we could subsidise through vouchers. Or we could expand the kinds of institutions that qualify for govt money.

      Note that in my opinion some of this is caused by what you would call market failure; our employers in our corporate culture are too fucking lazy to fucking exercise any fucking judgement about people. Not to mention that everything runs simply on blame. So those idiots shouldn;’t be surprised when college graduates are dumb and dont know shit.

      And again, this is just ONE section of our economy

      1. Where I live, no progressive enclave, year-round schooling is becoming more common. I can’t disagree with your complaint, but I don’t think there is an alternative to subsidizing education, since without equal access to education you have horrendous unequal outcomes in society and the marketplace and it can only be called fair in the sense that natural selection is “fair.”

        My support of government is inherently qualified by the necessity of good government. One big problem with free market peddlers is that they are incentivized to want a dysfunctional government, so they can be proved right and get the policies they want. And when they get in power bad government is what we get every time. Then it’s no big thing to simply blame government or Democrats for the results of their incompetence. Recent American history 101.

        1. Tony, have you ever worked in a blue-collar job? If not, let me tell you, you really, really don’t need any education whatsoever. Not even basic reading and writing (how do you think the Mexicans can be successful when they can’t read or write or even speak any English?)

          Only something like 25% of people have a bachelor’s degree or better. And how many of those have a liberal arts degree they could have learned just as much about by following your interests on the internet and reading a few books? The only real education is job specific or post-graduate.

          The truth is the vast majority of the population has little or no valuable education to speak of. It’s mostly just baby-sitting in primary school or job screening in college. So why do they need equal access? It’s not like you’re going to have equal educational outcomes anyway. It’s nonsense.

          1. I smell rancid cunt.

            Tony must be back.

        2. Pay attention, I did say education should be subsidised

          But the fact of the matter is you can’t defend all the other bullshit. There’s no reason all our education and credentialization has to fit within some narrow box that is clearly failing.

          1. But if you acquiesce on ONE program being subsidized, liberals will go apeshit and demand that ALL programs be subsidized.

            Slippery slope, yo.

      2. “Note that in my opinion some of this is caused by what you would call market failure; our employers in our corporate culture are too fucking lazy to fucking exercise any fucking judgement about people.”

        No, they could very easily screen using IQ tests but YOU people would go APE-SHIT, so they use a bachelor’s degree as a proxy.

        1. uhhh… You do know that wouldn’t be illegal, and they probably already do that sometimes, right?

          Not that using a simple IQ test would be any better, considering that there are far more dimensions of intelligence that are more important to industry/commerce. Again, I mean, god forbid employers should actually apply their minds and apply judgement to people. If they’re worried about having to go through a few people, they could use the intern system.

    2. “though not if its goal was only to concentrate wealth in the hands of an increasingly small number of people”

      God dammit with this bullshit. The % of wealth concentrated at the top is EXACTLY THE SAME as it was in 1965. The “1%” has about 35% then and they have about 35% now.

  25. Government doesn’t always fail, and markets sometimes do.

    Tony, the fact that there are outcomes you don’t like doesn’t mean the market has failed.

    1. You expect us to accept the outcomes of the market for some purpose, presumably. That is, the market is presumed to produce the best possible outcomes. At the very least it’s supposed to facilitate prosperity and innovation. It can and does fail to do the things you guys promise it will do. Accepting any and all outcomes without assessing their value means you simply worship the market, and I don’t choose to acknowledge the legitimacy that kind of behavior, whether it involves markets or Xenu.

      Even the most ardent free market peddlers in positions of power in 2008 realized the market had failed. At the very least nobody was willing to let the system collapse on their watch–which, it goes without saying, would have done even more damage to the credibility of free market ideology.

      1. *yawn*

  26. Following my checkup with my doctor, he asked me why I was so red on my forehead. I looked at him with an inquisitive perplexity, and said, “I’m not sure.” “Think dammit” he demanded.

    “Well, I do do a lot of face palms.” “Why?” he asked. “Mostly after I read comments from a guy named Tony.” “Voila! Stop reading Tony and the red blotch will go away!”

    After reading the above, it’s now bleeding.

  27. This is the question now the obama government is asking from himself and now its the time to do something new.

  28. I wish it were only the counter intuitive nature of the free market, unfortunately, the truth is that we want something for nothing and we’re doomed. There are no reforms coming and until the world decides they won’t low interest loan our government any more money, then the federal government will keep spending more than it can possibly take in. Aside from a few lonely voices there are no reforms.

    1. Free Markets protect Society from the Selfishness of Man. When that Selfishness is levered with Government, the resulting Crony Markets destroy Society.

  29. “our possibilities are limitless” Indeed! We can also blow up the Earth! We must remember to be humble, that what has worked over hundreds of years will tend to work in the future, and that Nature is much more vast than humans can imagine.

  30. A very well-written post. I read then liked the post and allow also bookmarked you. All the best for coming endeavors.

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