Well, this spells the end for calculus. Turn out the lights when you leave, Newton…

Yesterday, I read a bizarre article in the WSJ by Stephen Moore. He asked the question “why do Americans hate economics”, and answered it thus: “Because too often economic theories defy common sense.”

Now, this is certainly true. Some economic ideas are counterintuitive. But, Moore concludes that this is the fault of macroeconomists, specifically Keynesians, who are misleading people with their crazy, counterintuitive ideas. He then goes on to discuss various controversial economic phenomena such as “crowding out“, “Ricardian equivalence” and other ideas that most Keynesians have easy responses to.

Perhaps the most egregious line is the association of Henry Wallace’s 1930s-era agricultural price support program with mainstream Keynesianism. Really, though, the whole article is full of half-truths and insinuations.

But never mind the specifics just now; what I want to focus on is the fact that Moore appears to assume that things which are counterintuitive must therefore be untrue. Well, there are lots of confusing concepts in other sciences. For example, is light a particle or a wave? According to this logic, it’s neither. It’s a big glow-y thing, because that’s what common sense tells us.

It’s possible that a whole branch of economics is mistaken. There are many examples in history of a whole scientific field being deluded and unwilling to listen to the correct explanation. Ignaz Semmelweis was considered a kook by his medical colleagues because he thought doctors ought to wash their hands. It can happen. I’m just saying that the burden of proof rests with Moore’s side in this argument, and I don’t get his assumption that something that doesn’t make immediate sense to the layman is automatically wrong.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman, Noah Smith and David Glasner all have good responses to the Moore article. I like it when smarter people than me agree with me.

1 Comment

  1. Why are they attacking salt water Keynesianism since it's the fresh water economists that have been running the economy since 1981. Common sense would lead you to believe that the ones running the show and have destroyed the entire world's economy that they are the ones responsible and reality has disproven their economic beliefs.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?