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The State’s Crystal Ball Cannot Fix Externalities

The following quote is from the closing lines of one of the best articles ever written on externalities – an article, on this topic, second only to Ronald Coase’s classic 1960 article, “The Problem of Social Cost”; the article quoted below is Carl Dahlman’s April 1979 Journal of Law & Economics contribution, “The Problem of Externality“:

The question then ultimately becomes: how can the economic organization be improved upon by endogenous institutional rearrangements?  This is not the outlook of modern welfare theory where the government is seen as a force outside the economic system altogether, which will come to our aid and rectify the havoc wrought by endogenously working market forces, just like the classical deus ex machina.  Coase opens the door for an economic theory of institutions, whereas modern welfare theory can only gaze into its crystal ball of mathematical abstraction and wisely state that heaven on earth is still far off – which is true, but of no particular consequence either for the correct conduct of economic policy or for the theory of externalities.

Republished from Cafe Hayek.

 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.


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