Thursday, November 17, 2011

For every 2 economists, there are 3 opinions


This emerging conversation of ours highlights the miracle of diversity of human opinion, at least when it comes to politics. I am alas way more skeptical about the miracle of the market than you are.  For me, regulated capitalism is the most remarkable economic system extant. But unfettered capitalism is among the worst-think mid 19th century England. So its a question of degree.  The idea of free markets is an illusion. It always depends upon who makes the rules. And I am certainly uninterested in returning to the freewheeling capitalism of the 19th century, when the difference between economic security and devastation could turn on a dime. Government can (and could) play a vital role in the basics-a quality education system, decent infrastructure, (at least a semblance of ) democracy, and a safety net for those among us who lose the race. Capitalism ensures that there will be winners and losers.  

Our system of regulated capitalism allowed our 2 sons  to have the opportunity to do way better economically than our Bronx and Brooklyn born fathers. I see that chance for upward mobility diminishing from the American landscape-just look at the rise in the price of our alma maters since we graduated, and who goes there now. Not kids like us. Brooks wrote a glittering piece a few weeks ago about the diverse, and dangerous increase in inequality. I'm not arguing that more government is the answer, but it certainly feels as "the market" isn't the answer either. It always amuses me that my home state (Massachusetts) which is so reviled in the conservative commentariat, and has one of the most regulated business environments, has a higher quality of life by any measure (income, education, teen pregnancy divorce etc) than almost any other state in the Union 

The climate change issue, it seems to me, is just part of the larger issue of sustaining the welfare of 7 billion human beings and the welfare of the planet at the same time. Unchecked extraction has consequences. Ironically, the devastation of the recent storm highlighted  the robust and miraculous reforestation of  New England over the last century. That miracle didn't happen because of markets  

As far as listening to economists, which ones?  For you, not Krugman, or Stieglitz, or Roubini, or likely many others. For me, few from the Chicago school need apply. You can get any opinion you want out there it seems, all given with the same degree of certainty. I'll take my chances with my fellow scientists, who for all their human failings, are obsessed with seeing things the way the are, not they the way they'd liek them to be

As far as being a closet Republican, I can't do it. I am, after all, the grandson of an organizer for the the Garment Workers in the 30s. Not to mention my gay nephew, with whom I am extremely close, just married in liberal Massachusetts this summer.


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