Question the Methods, not the Motive

Over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux writes about a common slur we free-market supporters get called: shills for Big Business.  Don does an excellent job discussing how ridiculous such mudslinging is, so I’d like to discuss a tangentially related point: motive.

On top of being called shills, we’re often told we either don’t care about the poor (or, worse, are actively trying to oppress or hinder the poor) by opposing various “Progressive” welfare actions such as minimum wage, protectionist trade tariffs, or immigration restriction and the like.

The reality, however, is quite different.  We oppose these schemes because we, like many other economists including those on the Left, believe they to be counter to the poor’s well-being.  Our arguments are not that we hate the poor, that they just should be happy with their lot in life, or any other strawmen our accusers like to erect, but because we genuinely believe that free trade is the best mode to help the poor, or that minimum wage will make it harder for the poor to get a job.  It’s all about achieving the desired results, not just intending to.

To conclude this post, allow me to quote from one of my favorite bloggers and economists, Steve Horwitz: “I’m a libertarian because I do care about the poor and I don’t care how good your intentions are.”

8 thoughts on “Question the Methods, not the Motive

    • “shill [SHil]
      an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others.”

      Oxford Dictionaries

      Sounds like the people paid by politicians to act as enthusiastic supporters who get to stand behind the candidate and thus are in full view of the cameras.


  1. The next time I call someone a shill will be the first time. This is NOT because I think there are no shills out there. It IS because I think it almost always makes more sense to get directly to the arguments whether they are advanced by a shill or not.

    Most people are bad at understanding their own motivations and even worse at understanding other’s motivations. Even a shill might make a good argument. If I was looking for someone to shill for me, I would prefer someone who sincerely believed in whatever I was selling. The true believer is a better value. He is more diligent. Perceived sincerity sells. Perceived insincerity repels.

    Human nature being what it is, it is extraordinarily easy for people to sincerely believe that policies that benefit them would be good policies for everybody. That feature is not limited to one part of the ideological spectrum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, let’s not be so hard on shills. After all, they’re people too.

      Can a true believer actually be called a shill? Doesn’t the name imply impure motives?

      Perhaps there are different flavors of shills, just as there is an entire spectrum of libertarians.


  2. Ron,

    The thing that makes shills different from other advocates is the fact that they are paid by the people they are supporting AND attempts are made disguise that fact. They may or may not be true believers.

    Impurity of methods (if not motives) IS implied. The impurity is in the attempt to avoid transparency in public awareness of who is getting paid to advocate for what.


  3. Steve Horwitz: “I’m a libertarian because I do care about the poor and I don’t care how good your intentions are.”

    That is an excellent quote. I like Steve Horwitz.


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