Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Economists are Hobbesians ?

That claim by Henry and Brad DeLong into a fight (BdL defending himself as Lockean, not Hobbesian).  On the face of it, I'm not much interested in the argument, though it's an interesting conceit to spark a good discussion about economics and other things.

My favorite commenter is again Bruce Wilder, who makes several interesting comments, but I really enjoyed the line:

I don’t know what’s “Hobbesian” about it. It is a rentier’s kleptocracy in action, just the special case of disinvestment in the public goods infrastructure of an equitable rule of law, amidst a general disinvestment in public goods and social insurance, all aimed at widening the scope for earning returns on purely financial wealth: usury and other forms of financial exploitation.

But back to the topic, actually I think in some sense Brad is correct.  Economists are Lockians.  Lockes views property as not being state dependent, but rather a self-sustaining natural system (which could hardly be less established in actual history and anthropology).  And it's a short jump from there to neoliberalism, which is now 95% finished with destroying the world.

And that is only one of their problems, both with the study of economics, and the actual practice it inspires among students and followers.  (In these ways, economics has significant impact on the real world, and, I'm afraid, despite many good things that have sometimes been written by economists, it has largely been a negative influence...judged in terms of increasing economic inequality.)

It's actually Chris Bertram who delivers the best defense of Economists as Hobbesians.  He says governments adjust the incentives of rational actors in such a system, rather than trying to change their internal motivations.  And I think it is correct too, that economists do indeed view things that way.

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