In which ways are Democratic economists Democrats? (or not)

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In a series of tweets (try this one), Matt Yglesias has been arguing that academic economists are far more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole, though less left-wing than most other academics. I agree with his claims, which are backed by plenty of data, but I wish to add some further thoughts.

Very often political views follow our socioeconomic class and the peer groups we are trying to impress or join. Thus those claims from Matt are true for American policies only. If you took a leftish (but not Marxist radical) Democratic U.S. economist, and asked that person what Mexico should do to improve, I think the answers would include the following:

1. Build state capacity to win the drug war, legalize or decriminalize some drugs too.

2. Make it easier for firms in the informal sector to enter the formal, taxed sector, and thus make it easier for them to grow.

3. Invest more in education for underprivileged Mexican youth.

4. End the state monopolies in industrial products.

5. Do something about corruption (but what?).

6. Diversify the economy away from Pemex and fossil fuels.

7. Maintain NAFTA and try to maintain and indeed rebuild the health of the earlier democratization.

Now, that is pretty much the same as my list! To be sure, the rhetoric on some of these proposals, such as #2 and #3, would be different coming from this imaginary leftish Democratic economist. (Lots more talk about “inequality” on #2 and more about the benefits of regulation on #3, for instance, whereas I would stress the benefits of firm growth.) But I don’t think the substance of the proposals would be all that different.

Whether you wish to say the leftish economist has a right-wing perspective on Mexico, or vice versa, is a moot point. Or are we all centrists on Mexico? There is in any case a reasonable coincidence of policy recommendations once you remove people from their immediate socioeconomic environment. And surely that makes the Democratic economists just a little suspicious to the non-economist intellectual Democrats, as you can see from the Twitter fury directed at Matt Y. for what were purely factual claims.

There is a reason why they call it “the Washington Consensus.” I can assure you that the World Bank and IMF economists are not a bunch of Republican wanna-bees. But the Washington Consensus works, at least on average.

If you asked a non-economist Democratic voter what Mexico should do, I am not sure what answers you would get. But it is hardly obvious you would get the above list (I’d love to see this done as a study and compared to the Republican answers). Maybe the non-economist would talk about foreign aid more? Immigration more? I really don’t know. But they probably are not very aware of the dismal productivity performance of Mexican SMEs and what a problem that is, and probably not very aware of the various state monopolies. They probably would mention corruption, however, and also public safety and winning the fight against the drug gangs.

When it comes to U.S. disputes, the Democratic economist probably would be more “off the rails” than the typical Democratic voter (sorry, you’ll have to find your own links here, there are plenty), if only because that person is more aware of the socioeconomic conflicts and more aware of what one is supposed to believe. The more symbolic the dispute, the further from the median voter the Democratic economist is likely to be. But that is the education doing the work, not the economics background.

If you want to get a Democratic economist making sense, just get that person talking about some other country, follow most of the policy advice, and remove the word “inequality” and a few other catch phrases.

Interestingly, there is a subset of Republican economists who don’t talk sense no matter what the country under consideration. For instance, they might think that “income tax cuts for Mexico” would do a lot of good. In this sense they are the more consistent “cosmopolitan ideologues,” taking that phrase as a truly joint concept. Since most economists are Democrats, perhaps examining “the remnant Republicans” is selecting for excessively consistent ideology. The remnant Republicans are less likely to insist that “every country is different,” a’ la Dani Rodrik. If they were so flexible, they probably wouldn’t still be Republicans.

As a final note, I fear we are entering a world so “well-informed” about affective polarization, and with Woke concepts so globalized, that at some point the majority of the Democratic economists won’t talk sense on Mexico any more either. But we are not yet there — maybe in five to ten years? Maybe never? And where will the Republican remnant end up?



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