Feed on

In the Big Chair

One of the most dissatisfying things about the internet and the climate on campus is NOT that folks are hostile to markets, economists and capitalism (all different things by the way). Such dislike is actually quite understandable, and we can explain that in a bit. But what is most dissatisfying is how rarely I encounter really good arguments against markets, economists, and capitalism. Almost everything I read and see on campus and on the internet amounts to well-written cliches, often times with a bit of personal anecdote tossed in.

This is not just boring (though of course if they were GOOD criticisms, I suppose you might argue that one cannot make them often or forceful enough), but borders an being antiscientific. How so? How could it be that there are so many cliche arguments against markets, economists and capitalism, and that they become cliches, yet the only folks who are in the dark about them are we silly economists? Did they not teach us anything in PhD school? Are there curious aspects of knowledge that can be generated in a dormroom bull-session, a student activities group meeting, a non-economics classroom, or barstool theorizing sessions that evades us economists? Do we not also go to the bars? In other words, how is it possible that we idiotic economists are the only folks in the world that have not really gotten the message? Or do we get the message, but are so wedded to our views and understanding that we refuse to do some updating of our ideas?

For a hint as to what might explain this, it is probably useful for our readers to recognize that just about every single deep and insightful criticism of economics, markets, economists and capitalism has come from … economists. What sorts of things did Joe Stiglitz, Richard Thaler, George Akerlof, etc. win Nobels for?


In any case, it would be exciting to engage with some better arguments that address specific findings and ideas rather than broad sweeping claims that are themselves internally inconsistent. To take just one such example, as we get near the 100th anniversary of the founding events of the Gulag, Holodomor and the deaths of millions by socialism, you will see anti-cap websites claim breathlessly that “markets kill millions too!” Indeed, I’ve been told that capitalism starves people. And then children are forced to sit through nonsense like this in their school classrooms under the auspices of getting an “education.”

One Response to “In the Big Chair”

  1. Michael says:

    Somewhat unrelated, I was curious about what your thoughts were on Thaler’s Nobel (memorial) prize. When I did my thesis, I called his and Sunstein’s book, “Nudge”, pop-economics and disagreed with the larger points. I did agree with the general premise, which I interpreted as being the concept that information has costs, but didn’t consider that as something new; the Austrians (at least) had this concept for years. I also thought he did a fair job at identifying general ways in which we operate to not have to think through the millions of decisions each day. His prize seemed to be viewed critically in the Austrian circles, and people unfamiliar with economics (mainly legal blogs) seemed to think thhat he gave some sort of new revelation.

Leave a Reply