[Ed. Note: This is his final column… R.I.P. Mr. Williams. Godspeed.]
by Walter E. Williams
One of the first lessons in an economics class is every action has a cost. That is in stark contrast to lessons in the political arena where politicians virtually ignore cost and talk about benefits and free stuff. If we look only at the benefits of an action, policy or program, then we will do anything because there is a benefit to any action, policy or program.
Think about one simple example. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 36,096 Americans lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2019. Virtually all those lives could have been saved if we had a 5 mph speed limit. The huge benefit of a 5 mph speed limit is that those 36,000-plus Americans would have been with us instead of lost in highway carnage. Fortunately, we look at the costs of having a 5 mph speed limit and rightly conclude that saving those 36,000-plus lives are not worth the costs and inconvenience. Most of us find it too callous, when talking about life, to explicitly weigh costs against benefits. We simply say that a 5 mph speed limit would be impractical.