Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Problem with Kwak

 Here's a Don Boudreaux letter to a high-school economics teacher in California:

Mr. Conner Crabtree

Mr. Crabtree:

Thanks for your e-mail.

Not only am I familiar with Prof. James Kwak’s criticisms of ECON 101, I’ve addressed some of his criticisms in print.  (See here and here.)

Prof. Kwak makes much noise trumpeting a banal truth that no economist denies – namely, that ECON 101 abstracts from many real-world complexities.  But Prof. Kwak incorrectly concludes from this truth that the insights and perspective supplied by ECON 101 do not therefore apply reliably to the real world.  Yet they typically do so apply.  Almost none of the problems with real-world economic policies reflect a failure to take account of the often-still-debated and always highly contingent nuances featured in ECON 999.  Instead, these problems overwhelmingly reflect a failure to take account of the firmly established and robust truths featured in ECON 101.  (Prof. Kwak, by the way, seems to be just as innocent of ECON 999 as he is of ECON 101.)

Were Physics 101 to have a critic analogous to Prof. Kwak, that critic would conclude that, because Physics 101 abstracts from many real-world nuances featured in advanced physics courses, it is mistaken to infer from Physics 101 that your jumping naked from atop the Empire State Building will result in your smashing into the ground at a deadly velocity.  Of course, to accept such a conclusion – for all the trivial validity of the point that Physics 101 is ‘merely’ introductory – would be foolish.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

The above originally appeared at Cafe Hayek.

No comments:

Post a Comment