Arnold's Intriguing Idea
By Bryan Caplan
Arnold has a thought-provoking new hypothesis about “Why People Hate Economics”:
Paul Bloom’s essay “Is God an Accident?” in the latest issue of The Atlantic, suggests that humans’ belief in God, Intelligent Design, and the afterlife is an artifact of brain structure. In this essay, I am going to suggest that the same artifact that explains why people are instinctively anti-Darwin explains why they are instinctively anti-economic.
What’s the connection?
The difference between analytical and social reasoning strikes me as similar to the difference that I once drew between Type C and Type M arguments. I wrote, “Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies.”
Type C arguments about policy come from the analytical brain and reflect impersonal analysis. Type M arguments come from the social brain. In my view, they inject emotion, demagoguery, and confusion into discussions of economic policy.
We need our type M brains, but in moderation. Without a type M brain, one is socially underdeveloped. In extreme cases, someone with a weak type M brain will be described by Asperger’s Syndrome or autism. On the other hand, as Bloom suggests, there are many cases in which we over-use our type M brains…
Economics is an attempt to use a type C brain to understand market processes in impersonal terms. We do not assess one person’s motives as better than another’s. We assume that everyone is out for their own gain, and we try to predict what will happen when people trade on that basis.
Arnold concludes that economists’ uphill battle against public opinion is not unique:
Paul Bloom offers extensive evidence that the majority of people do not accept the type C approach to evolution, death, and other matters. If biologists have been unable to get people to change their type M minds, then perhaps economists should not feel so bad.