The Posner and Weyl Historical Error
By David Henderson
In a recent article in which they lament the timidity of modern economists, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl recently wrote:
The upshot is that economics has played virtually no role in all the major political movements of the past half-century, including civil rights, feminism, anticolonialism, the rights of sexual minorities, gun rights, antiabortion politics, and “family values” debates. It has been completely unprepared for Trumpism and other varieties of populism, having failed to predict those developments just as it failed to predict the financial crisis of 2008. And, until very recently, it has shrugged at one of the most politically charged and morally troubling issues of our time — the rise in inequality.
From Eric Posner and Glen Weyl, “How Economists Became So Timid,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2018.
While economists played little or no role in the major political movements they name above, it’s not true that economics played no role. As Gary Becker, Linda Gorman, Thomas Hazlett, and others have pointed out, free markets dramatically undercut racial discrimination.
In context, though, it seems clear that they mean economists have played no role, not that economics has played no role.
But there have been two major liberation movements in the last half century in which economists have played a huge role.
1. One took place from the late 1960s to the early 1970s and economists were incredibly effective.
2. The other is taking place now and, admittedly, economists have not yet had a huge effect.
Question for readers: What are these two?
Hint on 1. Posner, age 52, and Weyl, age 33, owe their own freedom to this movement.
Hint on 2. Two bloggers on EconLog, Bryan Caplan and I, but especially Bryan, have written a lot on this one.