Keynes was right–good ideas are powerful. Economists aren’t just affected by public opinion, they affect it in turn. But I do think our profession (like journalists) have a view of ourselves that is quite romantic–we see ourselves as truth-seekers. Well, yes, there is an element of truth-seeking in what we do. But it’s not the only factor.
.. we get the economics we deserve, the economics that most everyday people want to hear. I’ve often wondered why my viewpoint (or Don’s or Pete’s or Adam Smith’s or Milton Friedman’s) has such limited traction in the marketplace for ideas. We have to concede that we are not the market leaders. Interventionism, market failure, Keynesianism–they are all doing “better” in the marketplace in that they dominate the best universities and much of political discourse.
What else might explain the varying popularity of our ideas vs. those of our competitors? Various answers have been given by Hayek and others as to why economists find the intervention mindset so attractive .. We get the economics that’s in demand, the economics that people want. It’s the reverse of the Keynes argument about the influence of defunct economists. Keynes saw economics ideas influencing policy. But maybe it is policy that influences economics. So as the world becomes more interventionist, the economists respond by finding arguments that rationalize that policy ..
Our product, the less interventionist, liberty product, is in demand but not nearly as popular. People generally don’t want to trust unseen, spontaneous order-based solutions that rely on invisible hand processes. They don’t trust solutions without top-down control–they are not as reassuring. Most people are eager to trust a person who says they care about them than they do a process they are unlikely to fully understand.
In this view, the market for ideas is not designed to produce truth, at least not as its primary output. The market for ideas is like any other market–it serves the customer ..