The Government Shutdown and the Debt Default Issue: The Dreadful Lesson

by Mario Rizzo

I grant that the government “shutdown” and the perceived threat of default on the debt was a public relations disaster for the Republican Party. I think that the shutdown problems, like those of the Sequester, were grossly exaggerated by the traditional media and as well as by various left-wing hysterics. Neither of these spending or service adjustments affected the overwhelming majority of our (excessive) government spending.

The default problem could have been much worse. It would have presented the following options: Delay payments to bond holders, axe discretionary spending, and/or cut entitlement spending. Another possibility would have been to continue borrowing anyway, perhaps provoking a Constitutional problem. I believe that had this continued for only a few days not much would have happened that would not have been quickly undone afterwards. However, none of this activity would have served the interests of reducing the size and scope of government.

So what is the “dreadful lesson”? It is this. We do not know how to reduce the size of our Leviathan state. Tea Party critics are correct, for example, that the longer ObamaCare stays unaltered or unrepealed the harder it will be to get rid of it. This is not because it will suddenly turn out to be good but because, as with so many other laws, special interests will benefit and will not easily yield.  How well have the efforts to find alternatives to Social Security and Medicare gone?

Provoking crises will not work. The current Republican Party does not seem competent enough to devise clever political methods to accomplish the goal of smaller government, even if it were truly willing to do so. (And that is debatable.)

So we are left, politically speaking, with nothing. How dreadful.

Herbert Davenport: The Economics of Enterprise

Economics of EnterpriseHerbert davenport

by Richard M. Ebeling*

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Herbert J. Davenport’s (1861-1931), The Economics of Enterprise, which appeared in the early months of 1913.

Both mainstream economists as well as many “Austrians” seem to have long since forgotten Herbert Davenport. But during his time he was recognized as one of the early formulators of a subjectivist conception of opportunity cost, a harsh critic of Alfred Marshall’s attempt to partly preserve the “real cost” doctrine of the Classical Economists, and a lucid expositor of the central role of the entrepreneur in a dynamic vision of the market process.

His earlier article, “Proposed Modifications in Austrian Theory and Terminology” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1902), and his book, Value and Distribution (1908) were “friendly criticisms” meant to clarify inconsistencies or ambiguities in the “Austrian” approach with which he was, in general, highly sympathetic.

Born in Vermont, he earned a PhD in economics under J. Laurence Laughlin (a strong defender of laissez-faire economics) at the University of Chicago, but was also influenced by (though critical of) Thorsten Veblen. For many years he served as the Dean and Department Chair of the College of Business at the University of Missouri. He later served as a professor of economics at Cornell University.

According to Paul Homan, he was a captivating classroom professor: “One remembers him most vividly and typically leaning back in his chair, his penetrating eyes touched with the shadow of a smile, as of triumph, while he deployed his arguments, humorously but with devastating order and precision, usually at the expense of someone, preferably Marshall, whom other people took seriously and whom he regarded as hopelessly muddle-headed.”

The Economics of Enterprise presents his full analysis of the market order in terms of subjectivism, causality, and entrepreneurial competitiveness. Continue reading

WE ARE BACK!!!!

by Mario Rizzo

There have been no posts in a long time. Apologies to our readers.

I have been working on my book with Glen Whitman on new paternalism, behavioral economics and rationality. I have also been hard at work establishing the Classical Liberal Institute at the NYU Law School. I am excited about both projects. Nevertheless, posts will begin to appear again on ThinkMarkets. Please spread the word.

Tomorrow there will be the first new post of our second wind.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Journal from The Ronald Coase Institute

by Mario Rizzo

Readers of this blog may be interested in learning that the awaited-and-hoped-for new journal is actually coming soon. It is a welcome change from the usual in economics today. I hope that Austrians might consider submitting articles of high quality. The following is taken from the website of the Ronald Coase Institute.

A New Journal Coming Soon
Man and the Economy: A Journal of the Coase Society
Editors: Ronald Coase & Ning Wang
Publisher: De Gruyter    Inaugural Issue: April 2014

From the editors:

We are pleased to announce that Man and the Economy will soon be launched. As revealed by its title, Man and the Economy commits to a particular viewpoint of economics: a study of man as he is and a study of the economy as actually exists. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing view where the economic actor is treated as an atomized utility maximizer and the economy as an artifact of mechanical design, which misrepresents the character of man and the nature of the economy. Man and the Economy restores the economy as an open and evolving social organism of cooperation and competition.

Professor Ronald Coase was editor of the Journal of Law and Economics(JLE) for 18 years. During his editorship, LJE not only became a distinct journal, but also helped to create a new field of study, law and economics. Man and the Economy aims to do to economics what JLE has done to law and economics. Professor Coase serves as founding editor of the new journal. Dr. Ning Wang, who has been working with Professor Coase since 1998, will serve as managing co-editor. They are joined by two associate editors, Sam Peltzman of the University of Chicago and Guang-zhen Sun of the University of Macau, along with a distinguished editorial board made up of economists, anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and legal scholars from all over the world.

Man and the Economy starts in 2014 and publishes two issues a year in the first three years. It welcomes empirical (historical, qualitative, statistical, experimental) investigations and theoretical explorations that shed light on how the economy works and how it changes over time. We are committed to making Man and the Economy international and interdisciplinary.

We are keen to publish articles that examine how the emerging market economy works and evolves in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe as well as contributions by non-economists that focus on the working of the economy. Man and the Economy acceptsOriginal Articles (regular research papers), Research Notes (interesting ideas and findings not fully developed), Voices from the Field(contributions from practitioners in the business and policy community that are of interest to students of the economy), Marketplace for Ideas (interviews with leading scholars and other game-changers in the field), Wisdom of the Past (insights on man and the economy that have been largely forgotten), and Letters from Readers.

We aim to makeMan and the Economy the equivalent of Nature or Science in social sciences, read by and with contribution from the concerned public, policy-makers, business and legal professionals, as well as academics who look up to economics as a study of man as he is and of the economy as it actually exists in the real world.

The System of Liberty

by Jerry O’Driscoll

I have just completed George Smith’s The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism. I recommend it highly to all. It is a tour de force, and an essential read for all those interested in classical liberal ideas. Many of the debates today on the political right have their origin in the debates over classical liberalism.

The book is co-published by the Cato Institute and Cambridge University Press. This is the second book this year jointly published by Cato and Cambridge, and is a coup for Cato. The other one is Richard Timberlake’s Constitutional Money: A Review of the Supreme Court’s Monetary Decisions.

Smith tells us that “’classical liberalism’ refers to a political philosophy in which liberty plays the central role.” A great deal is packed into that definition, and much of the book is devoted to developing and explicating all the issues. These include, among other issues, concepts such as order, justice, rights and freedom. It includes such monumental controversies, some still with us, as natural rights versus utilitarianism.

Quoting Lord Acton in the Introduction, Smith observes that “the true liberal views liberty as an end, not merely as a means; it is a value that is not “exchangeable for any amount, however large of national greatness and glory, of prosperity and wealth, of enlightenment or morality.’” Historically, liberalism developed around concrete issues. “Liberty of conscience” was one such, and was bound up in the struggle for religious freedom. That struggle was played out in Britain, but influenced events in the United States.

Smith takes up many issues or themes, beginning with “Liberalism, Old and New.” What Smith terms the “Lockean paradigm” of natural rights, social contract, consent, property, and the rights of resistance and revolution dominated old liberalism. Even when criticized, the paradigm established the terms of the debate.

I will highlight two chapters. “The Radical Edge of Liberalism” is quite important. In it, he examines the key language of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration articulates the rights of resistance and revolution embodied in the Lockean paradigm. Smith asks of that paradigm: “Who has the right to judge when revolution is justified?” Locke answered: “’ The People shall be Judge.’”

It is no wonder that liberalism engendered conflicts, even within the tradition. Natural rights were seen as too radical by some, like Jeremy Bentham, and utilitarianism was the outcome. In “Conflicts in Classical Liberalism,” Smith notes that, prior to Bentham, traditional thinking saw no conflict between utility and natural rights. “Thus if social utility is the general goal of legislation, natural rights are the standard, or rule, which must be followed if this goal is to be achieved.” As noted by Smith, “Bentham broke with this venerable tradition.” He made “social utility serve as both the goal and standard of political activity.”
Smith is scrupulously fair to all thinkers, including critics of classical liberalism.

In Bentham’s case, however, he reveals Bentham to be a confused thinker who ultimately failed to make sense of his hedonic calculus. As Bentham came to admit, it was impossible to add up happiness across individuals. That is not to say that utilitarianism as developed by other thinkers was subject to criticisms leveled against the Benthamite calculus. But the problem is that utilitarianism, by undermining natural rights, undermined classical liberalism.

There is a great deal more to this book, and I hope many will read it. Smith is an exceptionally good writer. But the ideas he examines are deep, and the book is not an easy read. Smith does not skip lightly over topics. I have a few quibbles with some of what he writes, but very few. Decide for yourself.

In Defense of Herbert Spencer

Herbert_Spencer_

by Mario Rizzo

This my letter as it appears in today’s Financial Times (July 10, 2013):

Sir, John Kay (“Darwin’s  humbling lesson for business”, July 3) makes good points about evolutionary  theory and the social sciences. But he is wrong about Herbert Spencer, the noted  English philosopher and evolutionist. Spencer was not a Darwinist of any kind  nor an advocate of eugenics. He had his own theory of evolution that predates  Charles Darwin’s publication of Origin of Species by a few years.  Spencer was broadly speaking a Lamarckian.

In other words, he believed in the heritability of acquired characteristics.  He further believed that a free market would produce a discipline on individual  actions that would, at once, make them more efficient and more moral. Since  these traits could be passed on to future generations, there was no need for  eugenics.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dfd7b330-e33d-11e2-bd87-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz2Ye9CZ9PH

Bangladeshi Garment Workers and the Perversion of Ethics

by Mario Rizzo

For the last few days the newspapers have been filled with stories about how western garment manufacturers will now insist on greater safety for the workers who make their clothes in Bangladesh. They will pay for renovations and reconstructions of the physical plants. What is more, the government in Bangladesh will raise the minimum wage and make unionization easier.

So now Pope Francis and the relatively rich in the developed world (many of whom were among the 900,000 names on a petition to improve things that has been circulated) will be pleased and the demands of their social conscience will be satisfied. Continue reading

F.A. Hayek: His 114th Birthday

by Mario RizzoHayek as Street Art

Today is Hayek’s birthday. Much has been and will continue to written about him. When I look around at much of what passes for economics today, especially in the prestige circles, I cringe.  But reading his work always comforts me that something better is possible. And, in fact, there are many economists all over the world who take their inspiration from Hayek and his work. This is their day too!

Hayek, of course, was more than economist. He also had profound things to say about the mind, the rule of law, and ethics. Recently, I saw a stark example of the difference in ethical thinking between Hayek and more conventional moralists. This was in the case of the tragic fire in a Bangladeshi factory making clothes for western companies. The new Pope Francis condemned it as an example of corporations only caring about their bottom-line.

Now there are legitimate issues, from the point of view of the individuals working in this and other such factories. Can they rely on the attestations of a certain degree of safety in their working environment? Before people can voluntary assume the risks associated with certain kinds of work they must have at least a pretty good idea of what those risks are.

And yet there is a more fundamental issue.  Workplace safety is a matter of degrees. It is a working condition that is part of the cost of labor. There is an inevitable tradeoff between wages and level of employment, on the one hand, and workplace safety on the other hand. In rich countries workers can afford to sacrifice something for greater workplace safety. This is all part of increasing wealth.

Now major corporations are re-thinking their use of factory labor in Bangladesh.  They don’t want the images of large numbers of dead ruining their reputations. Ostensibly, they will argue that since they cannot trust Bangladeshi authorities to keep the factories safe they will not deal with them. Voila, the moral stance. Continue reading

Remembering Armen Alchian

by Jerry O’Driscoll

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest economists of this century, UCLAs Armen Alchian, who died at age 98. David Henderson wrote a wonderful appreciation of him for the Wall Street Journal.

Alchian taught at UCLA from the early 1950s until his retirement in the 1990s. Few men have put their stamp on a department as he did. Milton Friedman comes to mind at Chicago. Alchian taught the economic way of thinking, and his approach permeated the course offerings by almost all the other professors. If you took macro from Axel Leijonhufvud, you got a dose of Alchian’s micro. In monetary classes, works like Alchian’s “Why Money” were topics of discussion.  Alchian’s analysis of price searching behavior was background in all the courses.

Liberty Fund published a two-volume collection of his writings. I can obviously touch on only a few issues.

One of Alchian’s greatest contributions was to the theory of market pricing. Continue reading

Cyprus

By Jerry O’Driscoll

 

Cyprus is the latest country to succumb to the financial rot in the European Union. Once a banking center, its citizens now cannot pay for their own imports. Exporters are demanding cash only for goods sent to Cypriote businesses. Credit has dried up. Businesses are closing because they have no goods to sell.

The economic crises in the various countries have fallen into two types. In the first type, highly indebted governments experienced fiscal crises and could no longer service their debts. Banks had lent to these governments and their condition was impaired by the value of the government bonds falling.  The economies went into recession, which was aggravated by higher taxes and enhanced collection of taxes. Greece is the poster child for a financial and economic crisis begat by a fiscal crisis. Continue reading

Ignorant Survey from Chicago-Booth?

By Mario Rizzo

The Chicago-Booth IMG Forum asks their favorite economists two questions. Let us examine them.

Question A:

Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would make it noticeably harder for low-skilled workers to find employment.

Why was the word “noticeably” added to the question rather than some specific quantitative amount?  In other words, the question could have been phrased: “Would it increase unemployment among low-skilled works by approximately 5 percentage points or less?”  I realize that economists would get nervous about mentioning a specific number. But (1) That would reveal the true difficulties in economics of making quantitative predictions and hence tradeoffs; (2) It would take the subjectivity out of the word “noticeable.”  Noticeable for whom, and by what standard?  Noticeable to the public or to the policy maker or to the economist or to the low skilled workers or to union members?

Question B:

The distortionary costs of raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour and indexing it to inflation are sufficiently small compared with the benefits to low-skilled workers who can find employment that this would be a desirable policy.

There is a lot here. Let us first separate the raising of the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour from the indexing (one could favor the former but not the latter). Continue reading

Easy Money, Slow Growth

by Jerry O’Driscoll

In today’s Wall Street Journal, John Taylor explains why the U.S. recovery has been tepid while money growth has been very rapid. The recovery has set records for its weak pace, while money growth has set records for its rapidity. Taylor supplies some of the numbers.

Taylor continues an argument he made at the November 2012 Cato Monetary conference. It is the Fed’s policy that is causing the anemic recovery. To quote, “while borrowers like near zero interest rates, there is little incentive for lenders to extend credit at that rate.” He analogizes the Fed’s fixing interest rates to a policy of price ceilings on housing rents. Lenders supply less credit at the lower interest rates, as landlords supply less housing services under rent controls.

Taylor also notes that the Fed’s policy interferes with the signaling of the price system. It distorts capital allocation. Any decently trained micro economist would understand this. Why cannot the backers of the Fed’s policy? Continue reading

James M. Buchanan: A Preliminary Appreciation

by Mario Rizzo

The great economist James M. Buchanan died today at 93. I am still too stunned to write a proper appreciation of his tremendous contributions to economics and, indeed, to moral philosophy.

Buchanan won the Nobel prize in Economics in 1986. But even this does not capture his greatness. There have been many Nobel prizes in Economics since 1969, the year they were initiated. (In my view there have been too many.) Many of these prize winners will be long forgotten and even viewed with puzzlement by future generations, but this prize will stand out. Continue reading

In Favor of Across-the-Board Cuts in Government Spending

by Mario Rizzo

I am not sure which is worse: superstitions based on science or superstitions pure and simple.

Many people would react to across the board cuts in government spending by saying something like: “This is crazy; some things are more important than others. We should cut the less important things first.” And, indeed, economists would seem to agree. After all, the equi-marginal principle was one of the first “discoveries” of the marginal revolution. No sense cutting programs in such a way that some will have very high returns, however measured, at the margin while others will have very low returns. Irrational!

However, what is rational for a household or an individual need not be rational policy for the government. Why is that? Continue reading

Clarifications of the Austro-Wicksellian Business Cycle Theory

by Mario Rizzo

There has been a lively debate on forecasts of high inflation made by those worried about the Fed’s recent policy of quantitative easing. For details I refer the reader to Daniel Kuehn’s excellent blog. The question to which I address myself is solely “What do these predictions have to do with core Austrian Business Cycle Theory?” This is my answer.

We must start with a few general points. First, I am talking about the Austro-Wicksellian business cycle theory as developed by Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and as synthesized by Roger Garrison in his book Time and Money. I cannot take responsibility for versions constructed by others.  It is not that I think the others are necessarily wrong (and I mean no disrespect to them), but I do not know with sufficient precision what all these others are saying in the name of “Austrian theory.”

Secondly, the Austro-Wicksellian theory begins with either an endogenous increase in credit through the banking system or with an “exogenous” increase initiated by a central bank. In the latter case, however, the theory itself has little to say about the extent to which increases in base money will manifest themselves in increases in bank credit to producers.  (This may not be much of an issue during a boom but may be an issue during a recession or in a recovery.)

Third, the theory is fundamentally one about the “upper turning point” in the cycle – it is a theory about why a credit-induced boom must come to an end. It is not a theory, for better or worse, about the “secondary” factors that develop consequent on the break-up of the boom. These include possible recessionary-problems relating to bank runs (there is an Austrian inspired banking literature, but that is not the cycle theory) or what exactly will get investment expectations to turn around.  As to deflation, Lawrence White has argued that the logic of the theory requires the avoidance of deflation in accordance with Hayek’s very early recommendation to keep M V from falling.  (Hayek departed from this in the Depression, and later admitted he was incorrect to do so.)

Now to more specific points:   Continue reading

Raise Middle Class Taxes Now!

by Mario Rizzo

I now favor expiration of the Bush era tax rates for everyone.  Why? Because the only way to curb spending in the long run is to make as large a number of Americans as possible truly feel the consequences of the expenditures they appear to desire.

If Americans saw the cost of the gigantic welfare state in their paychecks, they would, I am confident, radically re-evaluate the expenditure side of the situation we are in. Then when someone comes up with a genius idea for spending, the people would think: Is it worth higher taxes? Might I not spend it better on my family, my church – or even – on… champagne? Continue reading

After the Fiscal Imbalance is Resolved: What Then?

by Mario Rizzo

Let us suppose that not only the immediate fiscal cliff problem is solved but also the long-run fiscal imbalance is corrected. What then? Presumably federal spending will then be on a sustainable trajectory which is able to cope with cost-of-living increases. Ordinary trend economic growth will already have been figured into the sustainability of the spending trajectory.

So what room is there for more spending without derailing the whole “solution?”  Consider that the contemporary federal government – executive and legislature – exists for the purpose of giving favors to various groups in exchange for electoral support.  Thus, even assuming the unlikely event that the long-term imbalance is resolved, how do we stay within the solution range?  After all, we did not get where we are by accident.

Only a real change in the philosophy (ideology) of government will work. The pragmatic solutions of those who do not challenge the welfare-warfare state, root and branch, are not enough. They are not “pragmatic” enough!

THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE

by Mario Rizzo

Some people rest the case for representative democracy on the idea that its decisions express the “will of the people.” Those who believe this have never thought deeply about what they are saying. I am inclined, in response to these believers, to use my favorite paraphrase of Ludwig Wittgenstein, “You can mouth the words, but you cannot think the thought.”

What is the will of the people?  Whatever it is, it is certainly not without contradictions, illusions, misinformation, and wishful-thinking – just like a lot of individual thought. But as an aggregation of individual thought it is a construct used to justify all sorts of things. In some people’s minds, this construct has claim to moral authority. Continue reading

Interests are More Powerful than Ideas?

THE BIG STORY OF SPENDING
THE BIG STORY OF SPENDING

by Mario Rizzo

There is an interesting interview with Ed Feulner, the outgoing president of the Heritage Foundation, in the weekend (Dec. 8-9) Wall Street Journal. The interview got me thinking about the progress made in the pro-economic-liberty cause, not only over the years of Heritage, but since, say, 1960. Continue reading

Money and Government

by Jerry O’Driscoll  

The 30th annual Cato monetary conference was held in Washington, D.C. on November 15th. The theme was “Money, Markets, and Government: The Next 30 Years.” It was heavily attended in Cato’s new state-of-the-art Hayek auditorium. Jim Dorn has ably directed it over its entire history.

Because of the conference’s breadth and depth, I can only provide some highlights.

Vernon Smith gave a brilliant Keynote Address on the history of bubbles. It was rich in slides, which filled the giant screen in the auditorium. It was a tour de force, and I look forward to seeing it in the Proceedings. Continue reading

A Cap for Deductions?

by Mario Rizzo

The New York Times reports today that the Democrats are searching for a way to get additional tax revenue from “the rich” in a way that might garner Republican support. So they are bringing up an idea suggested by Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign to limit deductions to a specified aggregate amount.

How such a proposal would work out in practice depends on the details. The first point is the status of the charitable contribution deduction. Is that included in the limit or not? If it is, then one should expect charitable contributions, especially the large gifts, to fall. Beyond the political reprecussions, there are substantive issues. In a world so dominated by the “compulsory charity” of the state do we want to reduce private-based alternatives? This is a tough issue.

On the other hand, if we exclude charitable deductions (as some “Democratic centrists” — New York Times‘s label —  want), then we have opened the door to exception-making and special interest pleading. What about the home-mortgage deduction? I can see it now,”At a time when the housing sector is just starting to get on its feet…” And “the state of the housing sector has important macro-economic effects.” And so forth…

Of course, this would be an increase in effective marginal rates since as income rises you must pay the old rate (let us say) on a greater amount of your income.

So this is what the election was all about? I am afraid so.

Fiscal Cliff: Sense and Nonsense

by Mario Rizzo

The above table is from the November 8th issue of the Wall Street Journal. The figures for the fiscal cliff consequences are usefully stated for next year and not for the next nine years as those who want to suggest that the numbers are truly impressive (or want to scare children) typically use.

Consider the following facts or likely scenarios: Continue reading

“Modern Market” Monetarism?

by Mario Rizzo

Douglas Irwin, a very fine economist at Dartmouth College, has a very puzzling opinion piece in yesterday’s Financial Times. The root of the puzzle is that Irwin seems to accept what I consider the naïve monetarist view, yet calling it by a new name “market monetarism,” that the effectiveness of monetary policy largely revolves around portfolio adjustment effects that are induced by an increase in real balances. (Isn’t this warmed over Pigou, and 1970s monetarism?)

What seems to be new is the “Divisa monetary indexes” which weight the different components of the monetary aggregates by their monetary services. In principle, this is what Milton Friedman talked about in his course “Money: The Demand Side” in the early 1970s. He said then that he thought it would be a good idea to weight the various components of the money supply by their “degrees of moneyness.” He did wonder, as I recall, if these weights would be stable over time.

Now, by this new measure, monetary policy has been tight. In fact, the money supply is no higher today than in early 2008. Continue reading

“ECONOMICS” NOBEL PRIZE – 2012 Edition

by Mario Rizzo

I have very little to say directly about this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. I do not know whether the seemingly-technical contributions of Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley rise to the level of a Nobel Prize. However, I am mindful that the Nobel Committee has to give the award every year. They also have to show some diversity in the fields they recognize. But their issues are not mine. I have said to friends more than once that the prize in economics ought to be given every other year. I think there have been too many Nobel Prizes and too few really game-changing fundamental contributions.

My reactions here are different. Today’s New York Times has an interesting article on the prize. The first point that interests me:

Al [Roth] has spent the last 30 years trying to make economics more like an engineering discipline,” said Parag Pathak, an economics professor at M.I.T. who has worked on school-matching systems with Mr. Roth. “The idea is to try to diagnose why resource allocation systems are not working, and how they can be engineered to produce something better.”

I have no problem with better matching techniques for students applying to medical school or trying to get into certain popular courses and so forth. But I do object to the project of making economics more like engineering. Economics was born of the desire to elaborate and explain the spontaneous ordering of the market. It also tries to explain the conditions under which that ordering process may break down in markets. Markets generally coordinate but sometimes they may not. Let’s find out when, why, and how. It is very, very, important to understand – for both students and practitioners of economics alike – that markets are not like bridges. So I do not want an engineer teaching economics.

The second point has more to do with the impact of constructivist matching schemes on public policy. As a second best, where markets do not operate, they may improve things. However, this takes the spotlight off where it should be: permitting markets where they are forbidden. Or, perhaps, stated more “moderately” encouraging the discussion of a greater role for markets – as in human organs. Even Iran permits a market in kidneys, after all.

Nevertheless, I am amused by all the flurry of activity designed to show how wise and interesting the choice for this year’s economics Nobel is. Sometimes it is not.