All posts by M Sheffner

Ron Paul interview and other matters

In recent Reading sessions, we discussed a Senator from Texas named Ron Paul. Paul is a free-market supporter, he has read Ayn Rand’s novels, and he has proposed 2 new laws regarding the Federal Reserve:

  1. is to audit the Federal Reserve, because the Federal Reserve refuses to say what it has done with all the money it has received from Congress;
  2. is to close the Federal Reserve, to end it. Ron Paul wrote a book recently called End the Fed (if you find a Japanese translation, please let me know)

Here’s a short news interview with Ron Paul: http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/35978.html

In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged (in Japanese 肩をすくめるアトラス) , she describes a fictional United States sometime in the future. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, the government intrudes increasingly into private business and private affairs. Well, here is some news from New York. This is not fiction. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City:

New York City is considering banning smoking in public parks and beaches as part of a multi-pronged plan to make New Yorkers healthier, the health commissioner announced today.

“We don’t think children, parents when they’re standing at soccer games should have to be breathing in smoke from the person next to them,” Commissioner Thomas Farley said after unveiling the city’s plan. “We don’t think our children should have to be watching someone smoke.” [Emphasis mine.]

Farley said since the indoor smoking ban instituted in 2003 has been successful, so the city wants to expand the effort through either legislation or a simple change in policy with the Parks Department.

The free-market blogger who wrote about this points out that New York City has already banned smoking inside many private business and restaurants.

My third bit of news refers to MIT. MIT has put all of its courses online. Now, they  have gone one step further, and put all their courses onto iTunes University.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun the most revolutionary experiment in the history of education, stretching all the way back to the pharaohs. It now gives away its curriculum to anyone smart enough to learn it. It has posted its curriculum on-line for free. These days, this means a staggering 1900 courses. This number will grow.

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A reply to comments コメントに応じます

Yamagata Aritomo
Image via Wikipedia

皆さん、コメントはありがとうございました。

最近だけ気がづいたけど:-) 現代に起きてる現実を理解したいならば、新聞だけを読のだら無理です。経済の先生は経済についてこう書いた:

新聞やテレビを見れば、今の不況に対してどうすれば良いか分かりません。ある評論家によってこれからインフレの恐れがあるが、違う評論家によってデフレの恐れがある。どちらが正しいでしょうか、分からなくて、対策を決められないのです。経済の本を読まなくては。経済を勉強しなくては。裁判員はなぜ導入されたか。新聞やテレビを見るだけでは理解できません。歴史を勉強したらいろいろ分かるようになりますね。

同じように、最近戦況が行った。私がよく読むブログにはこう書いてありました: “introducing political leadership into the budgeting process” and “budget is the key to regime change”. しかし、なぜ予算はそんなに大事かは分かりませんでした。当然大事だけど、政権交代と予算の関係はなにか、よくわかりません。そして昨日そのブログに次のを読みました:

For more on the possibilities of genuine administrative reform, I recommend this essay by Karel van Wolferen, who is aware of the obstacles facing the DPJ without dismissing the possibility that the DPJ will succeed. I particularly like this sentence: “But my impression is that the individuals of the inner core of the party are deadly serious about what must be done to turn their country into what one of them, the most senior and most experienced Ozawa Ichiro, has in his writing called a ‘normal country’.” Exactly so. The DPJ means what it said during the campaign, and is taking the first steps towards a new system of governance.

Karel van Wolferen って誰?えええ!知らないのか?知らない人はWikipedia 又はウイキペディアまで。90年代にかれが書いた本 The Enigma of Japanese Power 日本 権力構造の謎 が結構有名になりました。

Karel van Wolferen が書いたessay はどういう内容か?What Can the DPJ’s Overwhelming Victory Mean for Japan? 気になった部分は次です:

The significance of yesterday’s Japanese election results goes beyond a relatively new and untried political party ending half a century of rule by a competing party; if the new leaders turn out to be true leaders and are allowed to carry out their declared intentions, this will fundamentally change the Japanese power system… with few exceptions the elected officials …  have played a mostly marginal role, as powerbrokers at best. We can actually single out an architect who set it up this way just before the turn of the century before last: Yamagata Aritomo. … this remarkable man … created Japan’s modern bureaucracy along with its early 20th-century military establishment.

そして2001年にカレル・ヴァン・ウォルフレンが書いた論文は?Yamagata Aritomo  山縣有朋 についてです。

What better opportunity than the election of aspirant supervisors of Japanese bureaucratic power to bring to the attention of the world a neglected Japanese figure who established that power and ought to be remembered, along with Bismarck, Lenin, Mao, and the two Roosevelts, as one of the creators of twentieth century political reality.
His name, Yamagata Aritomo, may only register with those who have read Japanese history. Even in Japanese minds he may not be more than a shadow, dwarfed by Ito Hirobumi among the Meiji Period architects of Japanese modernization. But he deserves to be known as the creator of what in essence has remained Japan’s political system. In the end, what the world has been learning to think of as Japan’s lack of political will, should be blamed on Yamagata. His legacy endures in a more immediate sense today than, say, Bismarck’s legacy does in Germany.

今まではあまり政治に興味がなくて、日本の政権と政治家はイギリスのと大きな違いがないだろう、と単純に思ってた。しかし、ヴァン・ウォルフレンによってそれは大間違いだそうです。やはり歴史勉強しないと現在は分かりません。新聞だけを読んだらこういうことについて詳しくなるけど。いかがでしょうか?

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Session #13: September 2nd, 2009 – lay judges 裁判員 and the jury system

A scan of the Magna Carta, signed by John of E...
Image via Wikipedia

UPDATE (2009.09.03.08:20): Thank you to everyone who participated today. Today’s session was about lay judges, a new system introduced into the Japanese courts. We read this article about it , Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009. We then discussed the origins and purposes of the jury system. This involved learning something about Magna Carta. I feel very grateful to the people who made Magna Carta and forced King John to sign it. The jury system was intended to be a legal protection against the almost limitless powers of the king: Magna Carta states that the king may not punish any freeman except by the consent of his (the freeman’s) peers. The peers does not mean the peerage (the aristrocracy), but “the people”, as opposed to the king or the ruling class. It put a limit on the king’s power.

Before reading the article, I introduced a book about the financial crisis: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and the Government Bailout Will Make Things Worse and its Japanese translation メルトダウン 金融溶解 The foreword to the book was written by US Senator Ron Paul. Ron Paul has written his own book on the subject of the Federal Reserve: End the Fed. You can read chapter 2 of this book for free on the Mises Institute website (Ludwig von Mises was one of the most important Austrian economists. Read about him in Japanese here). The libertarian website Lew Rockwell.com has announced that Ron Paul’s book “End the Fed is now #4 in non-fiction on Amazon, and #17 overall. End the Fed!

During August, our Reading Group had no meetings. But that does not mean that members were not busy. Some of them read Atlas Shrugged (some in English, some in Japanese 肩をすくめるアトラス). One member read Emma (Jane Austen‘s classic Pride and Prejudice , or in Japanese 自負と偏見, was the subject of an earlier reading course, and we read the beginning of Emma, or エマ in our first session). She also read City of Glass (in Japanese シティ・オヴ・グラス ) by Paul Auster. (Here is a website in Japanese about the story: シティ・オヴ・グラス.)

The first session after the holidays.  To make a change from reading fiction, I have chosen a newspaper article about the new system of lay judges adopted in Japanese courts this year.

The article is Courting Controversy in Japan, by David Murakami Wood, in the Guardian newspaper, Wednesday August 5th, 2009.

As well as discussing this article, we will be looking at the history of the jury system: when and why it was established.  To prepare for this, read about Magna Carta (in Japanese here), especially about rights still in force today.

UPDATE: Here is the original Latin from Magna Carta which relates to trial by jury. “Nullus liber homo capiatur, vel imprisonetur, aut disseisetur, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur; nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terrae.” According to Lysander Spooner, in his “Essay on the Trial by Jury” (1852),

The most common translation of these words, at the present day, is as follows: “No freeman shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, nor will we (the king) pass upon him, nor condemn him, unless by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.”

As I mentioned during the session, the “law of the land” was also called “Common Law”, and it was different from laws created by the king. In other words, the Common Law is law independent of the king. At the time (the Middle Ages), kings had to promise to protect and respect the Common Law, although many of them did not (and King John was one of the worst in this regard, and the result was the barons opposed him).

Lysander Spooner, in his essay on trial by jury, examines the exact words of the Magna Carta, and other charters of that time, and argues that the purpose of the jury was originally not only to decide guilt or innocence, but also to decide whether the law was just or not. In other words, the purpose of trial by jury is to check and limit the power of the king to do exactly whatever he wants. Spooner gives evidence that King John was extremely angry about the contents of Magna Carta and at first refused to sign it. He even appealed to the Pope, and the Pope replied with sympathy. Spooner writes that this shows that both King John and the Pope understood that the Magna Carta was taking away a very great power from the king: it was not only about deciding guilt or innocence, but it gave the jury the power to express their judgment of the law itself. Obviously, if only the king can make laws but if the jury can decide whether the law is fair or not and refuse to punish anyone who is accused under an unfair law, then this gives the people a very great protection against the abuse of power that any king might make. It is protection for the people against the king, or government, or state.

This history lesson teaches us much about the purpose and meaning of trial by jury, and also throws some light onto the lay-judge system created in Japan recently.

I will also bring an article about the recent elections, to show the point of view from the British media.

UPDATE: In fact, we did not have time to discuss this.  I have a list of links to articles in the British press about the election at my other blog Searching for Accurate Maps. A Japanese comedy troupe called The Newspaper has created a comedy skit showing Hatoyama choosing his new cabinet ministers. Watch the video here.

TOKYO - AUGUST 11:  Yukio Hatoyama, President ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
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Session #12: July 22nd, 2009 – “The Catcher in the Rye” and teenage skaz

Today’s topic is teenage skaz and the selected text is an excerpt from CatSTsalingercher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger.

The story follows Holden Caulfield‘s experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a fictional college preparatory school in Pennsylvania.

As I wrote in the previous post,

This novel is written in a style called “skaz”: a Russian word (which to English ears suggests “skat” and “jazz”). It means, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

in Russian literature, a written narrative that imitates a spontaneous oral account in its use of dialect, slang, and the peculiar idiom of that persona.

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Session #11: July 1st, 2009

Arnold Bennett, British novelist
Image via Wikipedia

Today we discussed irony, and we read an extract from “Old Wives’ Tales” by British author Arnold Bennett.

It was not as difficult or challenging as Ayn Rand, which we have been reading for the past 3 sessions. However, the discussion was not quite as lively as in previous sessions. It seems that reading Rand gets people’s brain cells working.

UPDATE: Next session will be July 22nd, and we will read and discuss “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.  Although I chose this topic at random, actually there is a connection with irony: the “hero” of the story, Holden Caulfield, has this crazy idea that he wants to be the “catcher in the rye”. He remembers the Robert Burns poem incorrectly: he creates an image in his mind of a field of rye on a cliff-top: children are playing in the field, completely unaware of the danger of the cliff; his job is to catch them and save them from death.  It is not until almost the end of the novel that he learns (from his younger sister Phoebe) that he has made a mistake: the poem does not refer to a “catcher in the rye” but “if a body meet a body, coming through the rye.”

This novel is written in a style called “skaz”: a Russian word (which to English ears suggests “skat” and “jazz”). It means, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

in Russian literature, a written narrative that imitates a spontaneous oral account in its use of dialect, slang, and the peculiar idiom of that persona.

JD Salinger‘s novel is one example in English. Another is British writer’s Anthony Burgess‘s A Clockwork Orange. Salinger is a recluse.  He has repeatedly refused all attempts to obtain his permission to make a movie of his book.  Salinger was recently in the news but look at the photo! That is the most recent photo of Salinger? 1951??

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Session #10: June 24th, 2009

Atlas Shrugged
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti via Flickr

In today’s session, we finished reading two extracts from Ayn Rand‘s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged.

We continued discussion some of the issues Ayn Rand raises in that book: capitalism, free trade, individualism, the axiom of non-aggression, etc.

We read a few extracts from Rand’s 1974 address to the graduating students at West Point, “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” We also read a quote from John Maynard Keynes about the importance of philosophers in general and of economists in particular to influence the thinking of the ordinary citizen.

The next session (July 1st, 2009) will be about irony.

A criticism that is often made of Rand’s political philosophy, is that she championed the businessmen and industrialists, yet they are the ones (it is said) who created the present financial crisis. Some people assume this means Rand’s entire philosophy is therefore completely ridiculous and without merit.

Ayn Rand rarely gave credit to other philosophers or thinkers except Aristotle. However, she did inherit many ideas about libertarianism and free-market economics from other thinkers. Here is one, Gabriel Kolko, who writes about a flaw in Ayn Rand’s thinking:

“the lords of Big Business, far from being martyrs to the cause of free market capitalism and “America’s Most Persecuted Minority,” as Ayn Rand had put it, were actually the most powerful and implacable enemies of laissez-faire. The corporate giants  had not only favored the Progressive era regulations [e.g. the New Deal], but had also originated them in an effort to cartelize the markets. Instead of a “persecuted minority,” the coporate giants were, in large part, a state-privileged elite. Far from championing free markets in principle or in practice, corporate barons had ruthlessly used the blunt instrument of government to erect barriers to market entry and bludgeon their competitors into submission.”

(from  “An Enemy of the State” by Justin Raimondo, Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 2000 (page  138-9), quoting Gabriel Kolko, “The Triumph of Conservatism” (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1963).

So comedian  Stephen Colbert is hardly the first to point out this flaw in Rand’s world view.

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The importance of knowing the meanings of words

In the previous blog entry, I wrote,

it is important to be clear about the meanings and definitions (of words).

Do you know the meaning of “capitalism“? I thought I did… until I read Ayn Rand. Then I realized I did not really know what capitalism was. I had not thought deeply about it in detail.

In the previous blog entry, I quoted a free-market journalist (Bill Bonner) and a British libertarian (Sean Gabb).

The reason I quoted them was because reading what they wrote can help us think about and understand more deeply, and more accurately, the meanings of some important concepts, such as “the free market”, “capitalism”, “big business”. Sean Gabb points out that “big business” does not mean capitalism.

We think we live in a “free” society, a “capitalist” economy; but do you remember being taught these things in school? In college? Anywhere?

So, here are some more quotations I found today. My purpose is not to persuade you to believe in capitalism or libertarianism. I merely hope that you will find these quotations interesting and “food for thought”.

Here is part of an interview between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue, conducted onFebruary 11th, 1979. (Who was Milton Friedman? Click here to find out in English and here to read in Japanese. Who is Phil Donahue? Click here to find out. From Donahue’s questions, we can guess that his philosophy is “left-wing” or socialist rather than capitalist. Donahue also interviewed Ayn Rand shortly before she died. You can see part 1 of the interview on by clicking the YouTube image above). (I found the quote below in an article by Marc Faber, who is a well-known investor who is in favour of free-market capitalism – read about him in Japanese here). Marc Faber’s article is on the Lew Rockwell website, a libertarian website.)

Phil Donohue: When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. When you see so few haves and so many have-nots. When you see the greed and the concentration of power. Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism? And whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fella that’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The greatest achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kind of societies that depart from that.

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Phil Donohue: Seems to reward not virtue as much as the ability to manipulate the system.

Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? Do you think… American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know I think you are taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world you find these angels that are going to organize society for us? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.

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Capitalism and philosophy

Sean Gabb by the Baltic
Image via Wikipedia

In the last session, someone asked “what is capitalism?” and said that there are many different kinds of capitalism, e.g. “Japanese capitalism”.

First, it is important to be clear about the meanings and definitions. The kind of economy in Britain, the United States, and Japan, is not pure capitalism because it includes a great deal of government control and regulation. Such an economy should correctly be called “a mixed economy“. “Japanese capitalism”,  therefore, should more correctly be called “Japanese mixed economy”, i.e. a mixture of capitalism and statism or socialism.

Secondly, is America a truly capitalist country? Here is a quote from a financial newsletter “The Daily Reckoning” June 3 2009 “The Eye of the Economic Storm”.

Americans are not necessarily in favour of socialism… But the country has clearly moved towards more government intervention in the economy. In 1986, 40% of Americans thought government regulated the economy too much. Now, 40% think it doesn’t regulate enough. And get this… The Economist reports the results of a worldwide poll. When asked if “people [were] better off under free markets,” 75% of Indians say ‘yes’ and so did about 72% of Chinese. But put the question to Americans and only about 69% think so. Even Italians are more in favor of free enterprise than Americans. Go figure.

Another comment, this time from a British libertarian, Sean Gabb:

big business capitalism we see around us is not the same as a free market”

Finally, another comment from a free-market financial commentator, Bill Jenkins, writing in the Daily Reckoning of May 28th, 2009: To Hell in a Bond Basket:

In a larger sense, the US is at war with capitalism…and with nature herself. Markets have natural rhythms. They go from boom to bust…from inflation to deflation…from expansion to contraction naturally. Trying to stop the bust is futile. It is a fight against Fate…a losing proposition. And it is diabolically unnatural. You have to take the bad with the good in life.

and

“The idea is ‘to make holding money less attractive’ so people will spend it.”

In other words, this is not free-market capitalism: the Federal reserve holds interest rates artificially low to “force” people to spend instead of to save. But where does capital come from? From savings. If people are discouraged from saving, where will capitalism’s capital come from?

Writes Bill Jenkins,

“What we need is to be left alone. The market has been, and remains, the most efficient system for regulating itself. Is it perfect? Not in a moral or theological sense.  Not even in a fairness sense. The market will make some men rich while impoverishing others. Many people do not consider that ” fair”. But it doesn’t matter. The market does what it does because it is the most efficient way of doing things. .. The ironic thing is, bubbles are created by regulation.”

Here is what Ayn Rand wrote about capitalism:

Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

We must understand the meanings of the words we use. Then, we must look around at the world around us, and see clearly through our own eyes, not through the eyes of the media, or what we read in the newspapers, or what the politicians tell us.

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Why are Ayn Rand’s novels selling so well?

Quote from novelist Ayn Rand.
Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how well Ayn Rand’s books are selling, and some possible reasons.

I found several articles on the Internet on this topic. Here is one which quoted a Wall Street Journal article, which gave 3 reasons for the growing popularity of Atlas Shrugged,

  1. Atlas Shrugged depicted a future in which America descends into economic chaos due to ever-increasing government regulations. … The result is a downward spiral that nearly destroys America. Many Americans are finding Rand’s predictions uncomfortably close to real-life events.
  2. Another reason for Rand’s appeal is her emphasis on the moral dimension. One of her themes was that no country can survive when its government constantly punishes good men for their virtues and rewards bad men for their vices. Americans correctly recognize that it is unjust for the government to take money from those who have lived frugally to bail out those who have lived beyond their means. Honest men should not be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of others.
  3. Finally, Atlas Shrugged resonates with many Americans because they recognize that our current crisis is not just about bailouts and budget deficits. It’s also about a more fundamental issue — the proper scope of government.

Today, I found another article about Atlas Shrugged and how it is relevant to what is happening in the US today: Rand’s Atlas is Shrugging with a Growing Load.

“Atlas Shrugged” is becoming a political “Harry Potter” because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesn’t.

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Session #9, June 3rd, 2009: The novel of ideas

Atlas Shrugged
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti via Flickr

Today, we read another excerpt from Ayn Rand‘s novel Atlas Shrugged. We read the scene where Hank Rearden‘s mother comes to his office to persuade him to give his younger brother, Philip, a job.

The participant who borrowed my Japanese translation of Atlas Shrugged last week, brought it back today: she had finished reading it. All 1,200 pages! She gave us some useful background information about the story. Another participant promptly borrowed the book.

We had a wide-ranging discussion which included the following:

  1. Why is Atlas Shrugged so popular today in the US?
  2. What is capitalism (and free-market economics)?
  3. What is socialism?
  4. What was the New Deal?
  5. What is the meaning of Karl Marx‘ dictum  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need“?

Ayn Rand was a supporter of capitalism, of individualism, of free-market economics, of libertarianism (自由主義思想 ).

She believed that capitalism was losing popularity because many people did not fully understand the true meaning of capitalism and of socialism, nor did they understand the philosophical, economic, and moral basis for capitalism. She wrote her novels partly to educate people about these matters and partly to illustrate her philosophy “in action”.

We discussed the philosophies or principles underlying what Hank Rearden says and what his mother says.

One principle which we did not discuss directly, but which is closely connected to our discussion today, is the principle (sometimes called the “axiom”) of non-aggression: that anything is permitted except the use of force or aggression against other people. People can use force or violence to defend themselves or their property, but may not initiate violence or aggression against other people to make them do things they do not want to do.

Ayn Rand believed in the power of philosophy. Philosophy – who needs it? is a good essay to read to understand why she thought philosophy was so important. Click  here for a Japanese translation).

For more information in Japanese about Ayn Rand, visit 藤森かよこの日本アイン・ランド研究会

Although she wrote about capitalism, Ayn Rand was not an economist. If you want to learn more about free-market economics, I recommend an easy-to-read book  Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (I cannot find a Japanese translation of this; if you know of one, or – even better – a good Japanese book on free-market economics, please tell me).

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