Bryan Caplan  

Another Surprising Gintis Review

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Herbert Gintis already wrote a surprisingly critical review of Krugman's last book; now he's written a glowing review of Thomas Sowell's latest, Economic Facts and Fallacies:

Thomas Sowell is a serious economist and a fine writer. There is not a single argument in this book that I think is either incorrect or even disingenuous. Everyone interested in economic and social policy should read this, and his other writings.
Gintis endorses all of the following Sowellian conclusions:
(1) Rent control is a stupid way to help the poor, because it drives down the supply of affordable housing; (2) Racial discrimination is not the cause of income differences between blacks and whites, which are virtually equal when correcting for IQ, education, experience, and other demographic variables; (3) the same is true for the role of gender discrimination in accounting for the lower incomes of women as opposed to men; (4) Slavery, racism, and discrimination are not the cause of the social pathologies associated with poor black inner-city neighborhoods; rather the causes lie in a variant of black culture inherited from traditional southern poor white culture; (5) Poverty in the third world is not caused by imperialism or wealth in the rich countries.
When I was an undergraduate, Gintis was half of Bowles and Gintis, the world's most famous team of "radical economists." Apparently he's a much bigger maverick than I gave him credit for.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
KipEsquire writes:

I'll buy into the whole smorgasbord except #4(b). Modern inner-city black ghettoes were proximately created, as a public policy goal, by the Housing Act of 1949.

Dan Weber writes:

When someone says "there is not a single argument in this book that I think is either incorrect or even disingenuous," I start to get suspicious.

I know Sowell is despised by the left, so having someone who's critical of Krugman agree with him is just going to give them an excuse to dismiss the whole thing.

(Maybe I just don't know much about Gintis. Although Amazon tells me his birthday is in three days!)

Independent George writes:

I couldn't help but notice this line in Gintis' review:

Indeed, economics was called the "dismal science" because economists like Malthus and Ricardo continually developed ingenious arguments as to why social betterment was impossible.

It still amazes me that people still get this wrong, particularly scholars who should know better.

Bill Kruse writes:

If you only read Gintis' initial review of Krugman back in November, you should see the Addendum he posted as a response to critics (dated Dec 19). From the standpoint of advancing Progressive goals, he condemns (and that's not too strong a word) Krugman's stuff as "insipid and counterproductive."

Contra blogger Max Sawicky, who comments on Gintis' Krugman review, there is absolutely nothing in Gintis' reviews of either Krugman or Sowell that marks a reversal of any of his previous (left) positions. It's just that he advances these positions, giving credit and assigning blame where it is due, in a remarkably objective manner. Unlike Krugman, Stiglitz or Robert Frank, Gintis is not a whiner or panderer to economic know-knothings. How refreshing.

Incidentally, this reminds me of how Obama comes across in relation to a Class-A "insipid and counterproductive" whiner, John Edwards. It's not surprising that Krugman is constantly taking potshots at Obama while extolling Edwards.

jebs writes:

I'm not aware of much support in the labor economics literature for claim #3. I would love know which article Sowell thinks has demonstrated this claim.

I've never seen any gender-wage regressions that didn't have an "unexplained gap" in them. No matter what you control for, men still seem to earn more than observationally equivalent women.

You can assume that this "unexplained gap" is the result of gender discrimination......

Or you can say "Well, the gap seems to get smaller as we include more controls. Probably if we could observe everything and include all relevant control variables, the gap would go away entirely."

But no one really knows what's in the unexplained gap. That's why it's unexplained.

If anyone has read some recent paper that somehow resolves this issue, please point me to it.

Marcus writes:

Even more surprising, Gintis writes in a comment:

"IQ tests, by the way are far from bogus. They are very important indicators of human capacities and highly predictive of economic success."

Has Gintis been reading Lynn and Vanhanen? Herrnstein and Murray? Radical. Subversive.

ajb writes:

While there are no macro studies of male-female gaps that show no differences [because of data limitations], there are micro studies using more precise techniques that show this.

Cox and Nye 1989 in the JEH use a production function approach to consider male/female wage differences in 19th century French textiles and show that -- properly specified -- no gap exists. It does not depend on simple residual estimates and moreover is applied to a period when the male-female nominal gap was huge and discrimination was not illegal, so that employers would have no incentive to hide such behavior.

jebs writes:

Thanks, ajb. I'll check it out.

fabrice writes:

I consider myself rather liberal, but also economically literate and I don't see anything particularly revolutionnary in these conclusions. In my opinion all five points are pretty obviously true (except for #4 which looks plausible but I don't know enough to judge).

Regarding point 3 (lower income of women), it should be noted that the difference in salaries between men and women is on average wider in the private sector than in the public sector. Arguing in favor of the existence of irrational discrimination on the part of the employers would seem to imply that the public sector is more rational with regard to setting remunerations.

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