I left the League of Ordinary Gentlemen after a relatively short time there because it quickly became clear I didn’t fit in well there. And my foray back, discussing Jason Kuznicki’s post about my post on living a 1950s middle class lifestyle, didn’t go well.
There’s a certain type of liberal who thinks they know economics quite well despite having never put any effort into studying it. So they claim to know the basics, while stating as simple fact the claim that free trade is bad, or repeating the tritely pointless claim that there’s never been a free market. It’s like creationists arguing that they understand evolution perfectly well, then stating that mutations can’t add information to a genome. I’m pretty sure where they get their “knowledge.” They read liberal critiques of basic economic thought and think that results in an accurate understanding of it.
But as it turns out, economists don’t smugly point out that there’s never been a free market–they consider to what degree markets are free or controlled. Economists don’t believe free trade is bad, and if someone wants to claim both that they understand economic basics and that free trade is bad, they’re going to have to demonstrate that you understand Smith’s law of absolute advantage and Ricardo’s law of comparative advantage–basics, very basic–and why they are wrong, which is not so basic, which in fact is Nobel Prize worthy. Of course that Nobel Prize winner in fact believes very strongly in free trade, too. Demonstrating an understanding of the basics would also be helped by showing passing familiarity with Coase’s theory of the firm, instead of worrying about “How much of the basic premise of a corporation is rooted in the state to begin with?”
I’m not talking about dumb people, but smart people who insist that they know things they haven’t actually studied, but have only read about on an obviously very casual basis. Why is that? I suppose it could be the Dunning-Kruger effect, or perhaps it’s fear of having their ideological commitments undermined. I really don’t know. All I do know is that while my condescending attitude clearly was not an effective manner of persuading them, the issue is ultimately not whether I’m polite enough but whether they’re going to be honest enough to study what they claim to already know.
My big sin was being condescending. Good lord, I lost count of how many people dishonestly claimed that my statements of facts were actually normative statements saying “this is how it should be.” As one commentor in support of me cheekily said, “You didn’t explicitly say it was bad, so therefore you must believe it was good.” That pretty much sums up the type of League reader that made me realize it wasn’t the place for me, and why I decided to allow myself the freedom to engage in arbitrary banning here (fortunately I haven’t drawn enough readership for that to have become an issue yet). It’s one of the lowest forms of political discourse, and repetitions of it have the effect of turning me towards snideness and condescension.
Sorry you didn’t like it, E.C. But you’re simply deluding yourself about understanding economics. So just in case you wander over here to see how I’m “shitting” in my own bed, here’s my list for becoming an educated layperson in the field of economics.
- Paul Krugman: The Accidental Theorist.
- Paul Krugman: Peddling Prosperity.
- Paul Krugman: Pop Internationalism.
- Todd Buchholz: New Ideas from Dead Economists.
- Charles Wheelen and Burton Malkiel: Naked Economics.
- Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist.
There’s plenty more pop econ books out there, but I think anyone who reads all those will know more than 90% of the general public.
And there are plenty of good blogs to read, too.
- Cafe Hayek (although I would stick to Russell Roberts’ posts and ignore most of Don Boudreaux’s).
- Marginal Revolution.
- The Money Illusion.
- Greg Mankiw.
- Carpe Diem.
Yes, E.C., that’s all quite condescending. But you can read those books within a month, and look at these blogs once a week, and you’ll develop an actual understanding of the basics of economics. You might be surprised how real economists’ understandings of those basic concepts don’t line up with yours. Your choice is to embrace the knowledge or run from it.