Thursday, January 26, 2017

Laughter is Better than Communism

Laughter is Better than Communism: Politics, Wit, and Cartoons
180 pages
© 2014 Andrew Heaton

 A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Andrew Heaton’s “EconPop”, a series of videos in which he used popular films to illustrate economic concepts in a playful way.  Laughter is Better than Communism  employs a similar approach, collecting satirical pieces on politics and economics written from a libertarian angle. Heaton's pieces include commentary on occupational licensing and gerrymandering, which despite their role in undermining political life and economic growth, don't receive as much attention from libertarians as something like foreign policy. Even when he treads ground covered by other authors, though, Heaton's comic style makes his delivery unique nonetheless. He writes as an entertainer, not a lecturer, and liberally festoons the book with cartoons to illustrate his points. In the chapter on gerrymandering, for instance,  Heaton presents actual maps of congressional districts which have been grotesquely molded to create a certain constituency (a bloc of conservatives in a liberal city, for instance, or  the corralling of black votes into a single district), side by side with illustrations of what those distorted electoral maps might resemble: a man surprised by lightening, for instance, or a lemur throwing a boomerang.

Despite the amount of cheek and comics, though, Laughter has a lot of serious points to make. This is a partial education in political economy and economy in general:  Heaton covers the problem of Congress, for instance, of how the behavior that makes an individual congressman popular in his district (using federal money to build things in that particular state) makes Congress dysfunctional and loathed collectively, because money is constantly being taken from people, only partly reappearing in odd pet projects, and Congress itself  spends all of its time arguing and moving the money.  He hails the salutatory effects of trade between individuals and nations,  noting what he used The Dallas Buyer's Club to illustrate : commerce brings people together who would otherwise despise one another, and gives them a reason not to kill each other.  It also allows them to prosper together,  pooling their expertise and gifts.  Impediments to trade -- like occupational licensing laws which prevent private citizens from developing their own interests and helping people, or burdensome regulations that make growing a small business impossible -- are often erected through bipartisan efforts for good intentions, but often rob the many on behalf of the few, like businesses which have already established themselves and want to squelch further competition.  Heaton alternates between real examples and fictional scenarios, but if you're interested in learning more about how occupational licensing perpetuates poverty,  there's a documentary called Locked Out that may be of interest to you. Listen to a five-minute interview here with that movie's subject, a Tupelo woman named Melanie Armstrong who fought a law forcing her students to obtain an expensive license to braid hair,  read an article on the subject, or read her story directly.  This isn't just about braiding hair, but more largely how occupational licensing serves as  barrier  against self-empowerment, perpetuating poverty in the United States.  The last ten minutes are particularly encouraging, as -- after Armstrong's legal victory --  a wave of impoverished people were able to pursue their own dreams. Hope was restored.

In short, Laughter is Better than Communism fun little collection of Bronx cheers aimed at planners, prudes, and other people who feign to know better than others about how to live their own lives.

More of Heaton:

Revan Paul: And it doesn't matter if it's 'bulk metadata' or not -- who you send holograms to is information about you.

Luke: Ten thousand? We could almost buy our own ship for that!
Ben Kenobi:  The government has increased the cost of risk, and so our supplier is increasing the cost of his services. It's basic economics, Luke. We're gonna do a little lightsaber work, and then I'm going to have you read a lot of Milton Friedman.

The aforementioned economic appraisal of The Dallas Buyers Club

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