Does Learning Economics Radicalize the Right?
By Bryan Caplan
While I was away, I missed a provocative post by Brad DeLong. Leftists need to study economics, but rightists all-too-often have an adverse reaction:
By contrast, the neoclassical toolkit can be absolute poison for people right on center. It functions like a kind of crack, reducing their arguments to empty slogans: “the market takes care of that”; “acts of capitalism between consenting adults”; “they hired the money, didn’t they?”; “it’s not the government’s, it’s theirs.” People right-of-center should be exposed to the neoclassical economics toolkit only after posting a $1M bond to cover collateral damage, and only under the supervision of trained professionals.
This is an interesting hypothesis, but it directly contradicts the best available data, as compiled by my colleague Dan Klein. Together with co-author Charlotta Stern, Klein finds that even Republican economists are, in absolute terms, quite moderate in their policy views. Check out “Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House?”. Long story short: Slightly under 25% of Republican economists are even “mildly opposed” to the typical government intervention. Right-wing economists are certainly more pro-market than left-wing economists – and both are more pro-market than the general public. But only a minority of rightists have been radicalized by their study.
Too bad. As one of the minority of economists who has been radicalized by the study of economics, I wish Brad were right.