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One conditions to not get angry or depressed by the myriad vapid, unsubstantiated and ad hominem-type remarks in nearly every book you pick up. This is especially the case in my two areas of “expertise” – environmental economics and the economics of higher education. Here is an example from the latest, The Big Ratchet, by Ruth DeFries:

Aberrant weather may have precipitated the hatchets that fell in northern Europe’s fourteenth-century famine and England’s late eighteenth-century food riots, but weather was not the only force at play. Markets and politics combined to escalate the crises. Due to markets and politics there was not enough surplus for these populations to make it through the lean times, and often no way for the hungry to get the food that was stored. (wintercow emphasis added)

And of course, what follows is page after page of thoughtful analysis and illustration of that point. From what I know of markets, admittedly very little, there was no such thing as a market economy in the 14th century. Europe was mired in feudalism, and any excess grains grown on the feud merely enabled the children of the nobles to draw some pictures and mold some clay. As far as the foot riots in Britain, they indeed were spurred on by horrible weather, but also there was this tiny matter of a War with France and an inability to import grain from other parts of the world. Note that this does not in itself exonerate markets, especially in England when rapid industrialization and the enclosure movement made it very difficult for the new urban poor to sustain themselves particularly when hard times struck, but at least it is the beginning of an explanation. But in today’s world we can just say stuff like, “markets and politics” did stuff, and we all shake our heads in affirmation.

One Response to “Another Offhand Remark”

  1. Scott says:

    I think it is easier to use the word market to describe things we’d rather not talk about than than to think about what market forces actually are, what prices really mean, and how to rationally deal with scarcity.

    I’m going to start using the word ‘progressives’ to describe all the evils in the world.

    For example, next week I’ll miss my kickball game because I have to go to a baby shower. Men are supposed to go to baby showers now, apparently. PROGRESSIVES! JEEZE!

    Also, higher prices for education and healthcare, higher rates of unemployment and the all the associated poverties and correlated conditions: domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, higher crimes rates, higher rates of incarceration, kids growing up in broken homes and communities…”progressives” did that.

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