Friday, November 03, 2006


A thought provoking column from Coyne suggesting that while economics shaped the major political debates of the 20th century we may have reached a broad consensus and will now shift our attention to other debates. Extended excerpts:

If the left has belatedly come to accept the market economy, the right had earlier to come to terms with the state’s social responsibilities. Nobody, left or right, wants to nationalize major industries any more, and nobody, right or left, would deprive the poor of schooling, or health care, or any of the major undertakings of the modern welfare state.

Many people find this suggestion — that we’ve reached a consensus on such matters — deeply upsetting, as an underhanded attempt to marginalize dissent. Is it? Isn’t it conceivable that, as a society, we’ve simply come to … agree?
Politics in previous centuries was largely concerned with other things: with the rights of religious dissenters, say, or how far to extend the franchise. But in time a consensus formed on these issues, and society moved on.
Nowhere is it written that there must be disagreement about the fundamentals of economic policy. Politics was not always about the economy in the past. Perhaps it will not be in the future.

What might replace it? Climate change seems an obvious candidate, or terrorism: issues on which there is broad disagreement, and which will probably still confront us decades from now. Both, moreover, may require us to rethink conventional ideas about national sovereignty, inasmuch as neither can be addressed except by concerted international action.

But who knows? My only point is to suggest that the economy need not be one of them, and probably won’t be. If not quite the End of History, it may be the end of economics.
The end of economics? Has my discipline outlived Mader's?

Posted by Matthew @ 5:15 PM

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I prefer to think that Coyne is just, you know, wrong. I mean, it'd be great if he were right, but I don't buy it for a second. And in fact - even if he were right as to the present situation - his suggestion that we move beyond economics would result in a lapse, I should think, in about a generation. (In fact I think Coyne's end-of-history analysis, which Fukayama ought to have made suspect for all of us, is largely a reflection of his generational attitude. If you haven't been in a lecture hall in twenty-five years, you might think that everyone's come to accept market economics - but you'd be wrong.)

Note, by the way, that I'm really more of a history heretic than an economics prophet, since I was, after all, a history major. Econ was my minor.

Posted by Blogger Mader @ November 03, 2006 6:23 PM #


My closing comment was, of course, in jest.

While I think I tend to be slightly more charitable to Coyne's thesis than you, clearly economics has a long future as it is essentially a study of human choices.

I had however forgotten that you were History-Econ, and not the other way around.

Posted by Blogger Matthew @ November 03, 2006 7:05 PM #
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