Recycling a Beauty
By Tibor Machan - July 17, 2010

My friend and occasional colleague – when we have both worked for the Institute for Economic Studies Europe now and then during summers over the last couple of decades – Professor Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University, has a wonderful knack for zeroing in on the nonsense that so often surrounds us in certain very prominent forums the editors of which appear to have no critical abilities at all, no clue as to whether the kind of stuff they publish manages to be utter balderdash. He is a dedicate scout searching out such nonsense and often publishes the letters he sends to newspapers, magazines and other media at the blog he and some friends of his operate, Cafe Hayek.

Just today he sent out one of these that is a great winner in my book, no question about it. It echoes something I had pointed out about ten years ago to a young friend of mine who was pining to me about how the Middle Ages had been so much more meaningful and noble to live in than our own times. (I had had enough of this pining after a while so I pointed out to my friend that he, as a father of then four – now six – children might rethink his adoration of those days past by considering that probably but one of those four would manage to survive to the ripe old age of 20 back in those glorious times!) So I have asked Professor Boudreaux whether I might reproduce in my own column his absolutely spot on comment on a similar young person's mindless ruminations discussed in The Washington Post. Here it is and please take it to heart.

The only thing I would like to add is that anyone who would like to delve into more of such sensible points made against the innumerable know-nothings of our age should check out the works of the late Julian Simon as well as the recently published book by Matt Ridley, Rational Optimist. Perhaps these will manage to be the antidotes to the kind of baffling thinking produced by the likes of Mr. Kelley (below) and by more prominent public philosophers such as Jeremy Rifkin!

Of course our era has its problems but these folks are really bonkers with their pessimism. What's more, they aren't upset with some of the real horrors of our time, such as the tyrannies and wars and oppression that go on in parts of the globe but with the good stuff, like our having enough to eat and efficient transportation! Nor does one hear from them much about Nazism and Communism, the really horrible systems of the modern age but instead they keep advancing lamentations about modernity and the free market system, precisely what have been the liberating features of our time.

Editor, Washington Post

1150 15th St., NW

Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Benjamin Kelley says that his art "represents the dehumanization of modern society" ("An artistic body of work's bone of contention," July 16). I'd like to ask him which aspects of pre-modern society he believes to have been most humane. Was it a life-expectancy of about 30 years? How about mass illiteracy? Maybe Mr. Kelley longs for the odors, lice, and scabs that regularly adorned human bodies that seldom bathed and that slept on dirt or straw?

Possibly Mr. Kelley regrets that the homicide rate in modern society is far lower – as much as ten-times lower – than in pre-modern societies? Perchance he laments modernity's liberation of women from the oppressive dominance of men? Maybe he finds fault with modern humans' greater skepticism of tales of witches and sentient volcanoes? Or perhaps Mr. Kelley is upset simply because modernity has eradicated slavery?

Being only 26 years old in modern society, Mr. Kelley has many decades left to reject his fashionable romantic nonsense about a past Golden Age. Were he born just a few generations earlier, however, not only would he have been unable to earn a living as an artist, his own stint in humanity would have been much shorter.


Donald J. Boudreaux

Professor of Economics

George Mason University

Fairfax, VA 22030

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