Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Thomas Sowell notes, in this morning's WSJ, that the public discourse on topics that touch on Econ 1 (trade, tax cuts, price controls, etc.) is abysmal. Citing the incentive structures facing academic economists, he concludes that they are not doing enough to get the word out. There is certainly some truth in this. As one who has been teaching economic principles (Economic Thinking, using Paul Heyne's much better label) for many years, I want to add that there are other problems. Among the cultural baggage that many people carry around is a deep faith that the world is basically zero-sum -- and a suspicion of (or discomfort with) positive-sum outcomes. This presumption is endorsed in many other messages that young people get -- in and outside the classroom.

Another aspect is the fact that not all economists actually agree with Econ 1. Many have considerable intellectual capital invested in market-failure theory and theorems. There are many more of these than there are policy-failure theorems. Why is it so? There has been some discussion on the public choice listserv that public choice theory does not yet have a canonical model. Perhaps. Yet, good ideas do eventually drive out the bad ideas. It often takes a long time.