Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

8 thoughts

  1. You could make a case that Hayek, despite his Nobel, has been “marginal” to professional economics, although that would also seem to be true of Schumpeter, who Wolfe likes.
    But that isn’t what Wolfe means anyway, since Milton Friedman is about as non-marginal as it is possible to be.

  2. He recently wrote an equally silly paper about John Stuart Mill’s place in the canon for The Chronicle Review. You can check out Brian Leiter’s response, and a link to the piece, here:
    Wolfe apparently likes to write about things he is ignorant about.
    I don’t know what his reputation is in his field, but in mine (philosophy) he is considered a joke among the few people than even know who he is.

  3. Herb’s review is great.
    One thing that often gets neglected in talk of behavioral economics or rational actors is just how flexible the rational actor model is. It barely says anything!
    It says that “humans act so as to maximize Utility”, where utility is undefined.
    This is not really a model, it is the outline of a research program. It is something like saying that human behavior is reducible to an algorithm.
    For any given rational actor model, a new school of research can always come along and say “there are systematic discrepancies between this model and teh behavior of real humans!” But the model is very flexible. Any systematic discrepancies can be explained by altering the model. Then the discrepancies go away.
    So that’s how you get a good model of human action — bit by bit. Is this how you get a good model of normative rules? No. Ethics is a whole different ballgame.
    It is totally arbitrary to hold up an algorithm that does not represent human action and say “humans should be like this!!” You need to have an independent motivation for saying this.

  4. I appreciated rimfax’s pedantic correction, that Iran hasn’t had a free election in 56 years, and I don’t think it’s entirely pedantic. After all, few in the US cared about the lack of freedom in Iran while the Shah was in power, and he was one ruthless, murderous SOB. The US has happily supported all kinds of nasty dictators, who constituted most of the “free world” Ghobady invokes, supporting their armies and secret police and training their torturers … oops, enhanced interrogators. This is why the American spluttering about people like Hugo Chavez, or even Ahmadinejad, is so entertaintaining: even if they were dictators, that wouldn’t bother our government or most citizens, so something else has to be the problem.
    As for that bit about the “farcical imitation of the free nomination/ election process that we have pictured in the free world”, maybe “pictured” is the key word there. We also have a filtering system in the US, in which the corporate media, the corporate corporations, pro-corporate party elites, and religious leaders vet Presidential candidates and ensure that no “secular, pluralistic, freedom-loving democratic person who loves his or her country can become a candidate to run for president (or any other office) in” the US. I hope Ghobady knows more about Iran than she does about the “free world.”

  5. She may be right about the rest, but whatever you think of Ahmadinejad, is it at all accurate to call him a “warmonger”? Which wars has he started?

  6. Mousavi’s importance is symbolic, which in politics can be as real as gold: as long as he remains the probably winner of a lawful election and the government refuses to inaugurate him, he and his followers force the assessment of the government as completely illegitimate even by its own standards. And that, and only that, make the prospect of revolution something other than completely impossible. Assessment of what he would do as president is utterly beside the point, because he will never be president, and his greatest impact has so far and will continue to stem from that fact.

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