08 May 2008

Hillary's Snake-Oil Economics

Whether or not Clinton would have gotten much of the economist vote anyway is debatable, but she's certainly thrown it away now.
"I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."
Of course economists are a pretty small demographic, and you can always pick up votes in the U.S. by being anti-intellectual (cough, George Bush, cough).

But it's not the pandering that bothers me. It's the pretense that economists would make people's lives worse, and that ignoring economic advice is the best way to help people. Because it's material well-being that she's talking about, and that's what economics is about--understanding how we can enhance humanity's material well-being. To wholly ignore economists when that is the question is no different than to ignore physicians when the subject is one's physical health, and to "put your lot in" with witchdoctors, herbalists, and faith-healers.

It's snake-oil economics, and it makes me angry because she will continue to blithely assume she cares more about people than economists do, while she actually harms them more than any reputable economist ever would.

She should take the time to look at Adam Smith, who showed us that free markets are for the benefit of consumers, not businessmen, or Alfred Marshall, who clearly saw that studying economics was the path to improving people's lives. As Todd Buchholz quotes Marshall in New Ideas from Dead Economists:
From metaphysics I went to Ethics, and thought that the justification of the existing condition of society was not easy. A friend, who had read a great deal of what are now called the Moral Sciences, constantly said, "Ah! If you understood Political Economy you would not say that. So I read Mill's Political Economy and got much excited about it. [Then] I visited the poorest quarters of several cities and walked through one street after another, looking at the faces of the poorest people. Next, I resolved to make as thorough a study as I could of Political Economy."
I began studying political science because I thought that was the science of human well-being. Later I realized it is actually the science of human conflict, and important and interesting in it's own right, but only when it is securely intertwined with economics--when it is political economy--can it honestly be about the well-being of humanity.

If only Hillary, or any of our presidential candidates, understood that.


James K said...

That was beautiful James. I understand that pull to understand and so improve the human condition all to well. That's why I went into government, in the hope I could do more from inside the system.

I have read many opponents of Bush pour scorn on what they identified as a conservative disdain for experts on evolution, global warming etc.

In truth there is no reality-based party. Truth has no constituency in politics. Politicians build up their positions based on what will appeal to voters, a process entirely at odds with how experts form their views. Bush is just worse than the norm.

One thing that attracts me to Obama is that he seems to care more about expert opinions than most politicians. That is a very valuable attribute.

James Hanley said...

Thank you.

I agree abot Obama. I worry considerably about his lack of experience, but the abiilty to find the right people and to actually listen to them is an important attribute for any leader.

The fact that Obama has resisted jumping on the bandwagon to suspend the gas tax--even though it's actually a very minor issue--suggests he is listening carefully to his advisors.

James K said...

I'm not sure experience matters all that much. I doubt any job (even Vice President) prepares you for the burden of the presidency. Besides which I suspect political experience teaches you the wrong lessons.