Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Economists

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley questions the wisdom and integrity of economists–as well as the value of economics. Unfortunately, she misunderstands what economics is and what economists do.

It is tempting (…) to dismiss Smiley’s article as little more than sound and fury. Yet it does signify something profound and troubling: economists’ failure to communicate the essential insights of our discipline. Jane Smiley’s contemptuous and uninformed dismissal shows that we really need to redouble our efforts.

Art Carden and Steven Horwitz on forbes.com

 

There can never be such a thing as a free market, because it is human nature to cheat, monopolize, and buy off others so as to corner the market. This is what leads people like me to feel that economists can hardly be so simple-minded as they appear — they must be spouting this junk just to suck up to tyrants. If there is an unregulated free market, then everything must be for sale, including lives, children, bodily organs, endangered species, the air we breathe, and the planet earth. The key thought here is that the free market puts all of these things up for sale, and quite often what the free market values little (the ozone layer, child sex workers), humans value very much. If an economist is on the side of the free market in this instance, then he is a fool or a monster. Or at least an ignoramus.

Jane Smiley on huffingtonpost.com

 

Both Jane Smiley’s critique, voicing common misconceptions from laymen against economics, capitalism and free-markets, and the response by Art Carden and Steven Horwitz are great reads. It is a mistake to confuse the current american system of centralized political power and corporatism for actual free-market capitalism.

Along the same lines, consider Robert Murphy’s question in his Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism (see more quotes): “Are we simply to assume that powerful people in a capitalist system are evil, while powerful people in other systems are benevolent?”. What about people in government?

 

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