Thursday, August 18, 2011

Economists as political villians

I've never gotten over how large a role economics plays in politics, and by that I mean, how large a role Do-It-Yourself Economics plays. Essentially, outsiders think they can guess their way to mastery of this strange and counter-intuitive body of knowledge. That explains why there's still a debate on things like free trade, despite the issue being as firmly entrenched among experts as Darwinian evolution.

What really makes my blood boil is when I see these guess-based economists dismissing important economic scientists for political reasons. I see some of my fellow right-wingers talk about John Maynard Keynes as if he was a bumbling fool, and denounce his General Theory. In reality, Keynes was an absolute genius who cast a shadow on the intellect of thinkers as brilliant as Bertrand Russell.

Some lefties have done the same thing with my hero, Milton Friedman. From disrupting his Nobel Prize ceremony to casting him as the villain in political books, lefty hacks have never understood the moral, gentle-natured man Friedman was, or how much good he's done for the world as an intellectual.

It's no secret that I reject Keynesian policies, but that's not the same as rejecting the entirety of Keynesian economics. There are actually two Keynes, as well as two Friedmans: They each had a scientific and political side, and they each made undeniable advances to economic science.

Political commentators may think of Keynesians and Friedmanites as warring parties, but actual economists like Greg Mankiw and Brad Delong are quick to cite both as major influences. Friedman himself spoke highly of Keynes and had no qualms about borrowing ideas from him.

I do want to caution that I do not extend the same courtesy to Karl Marx, who I insist was the Trofim Lysenko of economics. He did not contribute anything meaningful to economics and his influence has lead to inexcusable calamity. He made direct calls for violence and there's a reason his modern followers are on the fringe.

Economists are scientists, looking to learn more about the clockwork of our beautiful world. Sometimes their scientific conclusions lead them to support or oppose specific policies, and it's troubling to hear people claim that is a recipe for villainy. I do not accept all of Keynes's conclusions, but I would never go so far as to lump him in with the likes of Darth Vader, Adolf Hitler or Karl Marx.

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