Tag: Intellectuals

America Unhappier, Death and Divorce Make People Sad

Professor Gerard recently wrote about the views of Schumpeter and Stigler on Intellectuals. In the paper he cites, Stigler wonders why Intellectuals hate economics, and considers the possibility that our extremely technical field and extremely poor communication style might have something to do with it:

Less than a century ago a treatise on economics began with a sentence such as, “Economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.” Today it will often begin: “This un- avoidably lengthy treatise is devoted to an examination of an economy in which the sec- ond derivatives of the utility function possess a finite number of discontinuities. To keep the problem manageable, I assume that each individual consumes only two goods, and dies after one Robertsonian week. Only elementary mathematical tools such as topology will be employed, incessantly.” (Stigler: The Intellectual and the Market Place)

A paper I looked at recently reminded me of another reason why many Intellectuals look askance at us economists: the long and solid tradition of “economic imperialism.” That is, the tendency of a number of economists to think that our economist’s toolbox can be (and should be!) used to explain just about anything that reasonably falls under the heading “social science.” The paper I referred to is Well-Being Over Time in Britain and the USA by David Blanchflower, and the abstract includes this:

Money buys happiness. People care also about relative income. Wellbeing is U-shaped in age. The paper estimates the dollar values of events like unemployment and divorce. They are large. A lasting marriage (compared to widow-hood as a ‘natural’ experiment), for example, is estimated to be worth $100,000 a year.

I agree that research on happiness is very much relevant to economics, but I can just see a psychologist or a sociologist or a humanist read that and not know whether to laugh or to cry. (And what’s up with talking like Tarzan?) Blanchflower looks at survey data (essentially asking people whether they are happy or not) over the past few decades and then runs a bunch of regressions. There is nothing wrong with that, except for a dozen issues that cast doubt on the conclusions and that have probably been the subjects of extensive research in psychology, sociology, history, and maybe even economics. Without passing judgment on Blanchflower (about whom I know nothing), I am pretty confident in saying that a number of papers in economists have been guilty of applying economic tools to broader problems without bothering to understand the broader literature (you know, what those “soft” social scientists write).

The Intellectual and the Marketplace — Schumpeter & Stigler

Having dispensed with the ever-dynamic Marx, the Schumpeter Roundtable continues through Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy this week with a close read of Part II — Can Capitalism Survive?  After some wonderful writing on Creative Destruction in Chapter VII, we move on to the projected demise of capitalism, oh, sometime in the next 100 years or so. (Of course, this was published in 1942, so we could still be on schedule).  In Chapter XIII we are faced with “Growing Hostility,” and Schumpeter provides us with some rather inflammatory views of the “The Sociology of the Intellectual.” To wit, Schumpeter contends that “unlike any other type of society, capitalism inevitably and by virtue of the very logic of its civilization creates, educates, and subsidizes a vested interest in social unrest.”

That vested interest, of course, is the intellectual.  It is not my purpose here to endorse or to attack Schumpeter’s views (is he analyzing or just venting?), but rather to point to George Stigler’s concise “The Intellectual and the Market Place” as another giant of the profession trying to come to terms with why intellectuals seem — at least to these authors — to be be hostile to market economies. Continue reading The Intellectual and the Marketplace — Schumpeter & Stigler