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My friend John linked me up to this somewhat unnerving article. Without responding to the claims too harshly, let’s keep in mind some things:

  1. Students in almost any discipline learn very little of value while in class.
  2. And of what valuable stuff remains, almost none is retained for any considerable point in time.
  3. So, even if we don’t believe greedy students self-select into economics, what leads us to believe that economics students are any more likely to absorb and practice the “lesson of greed and anti-social behavior” any more than they are to remember the value of the price system, or even what a price is? And this is making a huge leap that assumes economists themselves are teaching kids to be greedy, or implicitly saying it’s ok. Here’s an exercise, I’ll take someone to dinner if they can show me evidence that economists are actually teaching crap like that. It sounds nice, like most stuff, but I don’t see it.

I have this in mind as well. Where are the pleas for other disciplines to be teaching, “Behavioral” versions of their fields? Do you mean to tell me that the only social science actors that seem to be eliciting some anomalous behavior (which ain’t necessarily the case, but that’s for another day) are in economics. No behavioral political science? You mean we are all reasonable and rational when acting politically. And I’m 7 feet tall. Or behavioral sociology? Nope, it’s just us anti-social economists that need some “behavior” modification.

Or how about this. Let’s run some “experiments” on some small groups of people who are trained in Sociology, or Education, or Political Science. I’m sure we’ll find they have less respect for property rights than a typical economics student, and have an incorrect understanding of how actually pro-social prices, profits and trade are. I look forward to reading that article.  We can all play this game, but that’s all it is.

By the way, this is sort of what all of the university-types deserve. They’ve long since trashed the traditional curriculum that focused on the great ideas and common experiences of Western Civilization. But that was all tossed out the window in a race to the bottom in attracting students, and of course happily placed in the dustbin of higher education by the post-modern types that rule the universities. So I love this sort of thing. Trash the rich curriculum that perhaps would have provided grounding and common social experiences to economists AND the other majors, and then condemn the system that generates anti-social people, the very one you created, and then recommend some remedial coursework that at best approximates what you so gladly trashed years ago.

Have a nice weekend. By the way, who’s really greedy and not pro-social? Don’t urinate on my back and tell me it’s raining. Maybe folks think economists are not prosocial because they don’t much care about being welcome in this sort of polite company.

7 Responses to “Weekend Ponderance: Economists as Anti-Social Bullies Edition”

  1. Harry says:

    Have a nice a weekend, WC! You self-serving economist b*****d.

  2. jb says:

    Very insightful response WC.

    This article really made me roll my eyes. Economists are greedy, uncharitable and self-centered. If anything, I think the opposite is true. One of the aspects of my formal education in economics I am particularly thankful for is that I habitually have come observe everyday events in terms of the incentives at play. Because of this, I think that I am less apt to automatically blame someone’s aberrant behavior on personal shortcomings; I tend to instinctively first assess the situation and consider the incentives set forth before the individuals involved, under the assumption that they are simply pursuing their own self interest. Then I try to think of constructive ways to get the incentives right instead of blaming the situation on someone’s character flaws. In the process I often tend to ask myself how I would respond in that person’s situation, assuming that I am interested in my own well-being. In other words, I also think my training in economics has made me a bit more willing to empathize.

    Most readers of this blog also are steeped in economics, so you might tend to think the way I do, but we should not take it for granted. I think it is a nice little side benefit that just might make us a little bit more tolerant and slower to condemn others than are folks who have not been exposed to our discipline.

    • wintercow20 says:

      Good economists see a problem or interesting outcome and ask “what” … bad “economists” see the same outcome and ask “who?”

  3. Michael says:

    I have heard this issue related solely to game theory; that it teaches people to act to take advantage of someone in a non-repeat game scenario because the opposing party will take advantage of you. Assuming that the article is true (not that I think it is), would you have any hypotheses to explain the situation? I have two thoughts, first, the game theory explanation. Second, perhaps economics can be miss communicated as, “If I give the right threats/incentives, I can manipulate anyone to do what I want.” I will state that the whole “greed is good” thing wasn’t economics; it was Gordon Gecko, and he was completely wrong.

  4. Harry says:

    Yes, WC, they trashed the rich curriculum in the colleges and universities, and trashed twelve grades, too, all in service of Dewey and progressive education, and every year it gets worse.

    Hardly can young people spell, or do math in their heads, let alone write a complete sentence, because we have two generations, maybe three, who are plain ignorant and do not know much, except what they may have been taught by their Kutztown State teachers, who are nearly brain-dead.

    Where is the rich intellectual education? Right in Rizzo’s classroom, all of the time, and in Steve Landsberg’s classroom, I bet, today. And elsewhere, I am sure, wherever there are open minds.

  5. Greg W says:

    Stone-hearted Young Republican types self-select into undergrad economics. Bleeding-heart Young Socialist types self-select into undergrad sociology. That says something very bad about both fields.

  6. Doug M says:

    Economics students have been taught how to deconstruct an economics game! And this makes them bad people? Take pride that you have taught your students to think rationally and analytically.

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