Bryan Caplan  

Does Learning Economics Radicalize the Right?

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While I was away, I missed a provocative post by Brad DeLong. Leftists need to study economics, but rightists all-too-often have an adverse reaction:

By contrast, the neoclassical toolkit can be absolute poison for people right on center. It functions like a kind of crack, reducing their arguments to empty slogans: "the market takes care of that"; "acts of capitalism between consenting adults"; "they hired the money, didn't they?"; "it's not the government's, it's theirs." People right-of-center should be exposed to the neoclassical economics toolkit only after posting a $1M bond to cover collateral damage, and only under the supervision of trained professionals.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but it directly contradicts the best available data, as compiled by my colleague Dan Klein. Together with co-author Charlotta Stern, Klein finds that even Republican economists are, in absolute terms, quite moderate in their policy views. Check out "Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House?". Long story short: Slightly under 25% of Republican economists are even "mildly opposed" to the typical government intervention. Right-wing economists are certainly more pro-market than left-wing economists - and both are more pro-market than the general public. But only a minority of rightists have been radicalized by their study.

Too bad. As one of the minority of economists who has been radicalized by the study of economics, I wish Brad were right.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Eric Falkenstein writes:

the stereotype he presents are libertarians...quite different than the RNC, George Bush, etc.

DRR writes:

Yet one gets the impression that the general public, or more specifically the portion of the left with a general knowledge of politics, feels that most economists have views barely distinguishable from yours. Why is that?

TGGP writes:

I suspect that among economists libertarians form a disproportionate share of public intellectuals or popularizers. Also, they're the most right-wing (or least left-wing) of the social sciences, so they're pretty much the only ones the right can draw from, resulting in the field as a whole appearing right-wing especially to other academics.

Matt writes:

Economies are inherently unstable. The aggregate economy seeks efficiency at the expense of individual efficiency, the two are always in contradiction.

Historically, and anciently, government evolved as various groups tried to use government to resolve the instability conundrum. This history of using government to participate in the economy is built in, cannot be undone.

Historical economists, I suspect, are all too aware of this problem. Each layer of government, in part, is designed to hedge against some other previous layer of government.

What we need are economists who understand cumbersome markets, not free markets. Milton gave up, so, Arnold, if you cannot solve the conundrum, you are in good company.

TGGP writes:

Matt, would you care to give a citation for your remarks on instability/efficiency or for Milton Friedman "giving up"?

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