Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cranky about Franky

This has been a cranky week for libertarians, between people suggesting that maybe it would be nice if workers could be in a position to stay with their families on holidays, maybe we shouldn't be so consumption focused over the holidays, and maybe exclusion of the poor is a problem in market economies.

It is the last point that I want to talk about a little and provide a quick quote I like.

Pope Francis's recent pronouncement was admittedly overwrought (like Greg Mankiw, I thought the discussion of "trickle down" in a Vatican document looked ridiculous. But I don't get the uproar over the broader point.

People act like the pope was denying that markets raise people out of poverty. It seems to me he wasn't denying that at all. I can't even imagine what would get people to think he was saying that except they're on a hair-trigger and jump at anyone questioning a libertarianish party line as being entirely anti-market.

It seemed to me all the pope said was that market economies will produce winners and losers, and that a group of people - by circumstances of birth and disadvantage relative to the wealthy - can be left out of a lot of the gains of the market economy.

This seems to me to be obviously true.

It's not a statement that markets fail to reduce poverty. I obviously thinkl markets do reduce poverty, but I also think they exclude people. The two are not contradictory. I highly doubt Pope Francis misses this point. When markets were under threat, the papacy did not have any trouble standing against socialism. I doubt there's a major about face now and there was certainly no indication of that in what I read.

I promised a quote. I particularly liked this one:

"Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality."


  1. Can you give me some sense as to what you mean that it is obviously true that market economies produce losers?

    1. Yes. If you had the bad luck to be born to shitty parents that don't nourish or nurture you, the market - even after taking into account the leverage offered by comparative advantage, etc. - is likely to leave you in not so good shape.

      There is no mechanism in the market that takes an involuntary assignment of talents and endowments and guarantees everyone a decent, dignified life.

      In a lot of cases markets help with that obviously. But to a large extent they produce bad results for people born into bad circumstances. Francis, as I read him, points out that we have the capacity and obligation to generate more inclusion.

  2. If you and I were to meet five times in a row, and every time I said "Gee, you know, there are a lot of problems that econ can't solve that physics can", you might get offended, and rightfully so, because despite the fact that what I'm saying is literally true, the implication is clearly that I think physicists are smart and economists are rubes.

    This old dufus is simply farting out cliches in hopes of stoking the emotions of his listeners. Where were his concrete policy suggestions? Did he forget to note that world inequality has been steadily falling for a long time, even now?

    Come on.


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