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Here is Noah Smith on trade,

The development of these new models is good news for the economics profession. It means that mainstream economists are diversifying their approaches, supplementing their old simple models with new ones that recognize the fantastic complexity of the real-world economy

You mean, like Hayek and most real economists? Maybe the devil is in our differing interpretations of “mainstream?”  It would also be lovely to see a deeper discussion of where the desire for diversification versus total specialization blurs. After all, banking and finance theories do not encourage specialization at the product/investment/capital levels. And in 23 years in economics, I cannot recall ever reading something that said, “Country X should really just spend most of its time doing Y, that is a good way to develop.” Who said that? What books is that in? That seems to be a monstrous misapplication of simple comparative advantage, or a clarion call to the problems with representative agent, simplistic macro models.

The piece ends with:

Old development strategies based on simple approaches like deregulation and free trade might turn out not to be enough.

It is written to be a pragmatic statement. Perhaps I am too sensitive but I read it as combative and uncharitable. Maybe my reading, too, is uncharitable. But column space is limited and perhaps there was no room to elaborate or add nuance because again, I’d love to go find anywhere in any of the papers or texts I was provided with in both my undergraduate and graduate training that have as policy proscriptions, “deregulate! free trade!” … if you find those terms, you will surely see them with many caveats, with calls for appreciating the rich institutions those are embedded in, that a term like deregulate doesn’t exactly have clear meaning, and if indeed some author were promoting absolute laissez-faire, which almost none do, then the effect (or reason) for doing so is precisely because laissez-faire lets the so called thousand flowers bloom, and not the hyper-specialized problem-child development that the article is writing about.

One Response to “On Just Making Widgets”

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