From Mark Thoma yet again, an example of just how entrenched the unrealistic picture of perfect markets is. A lot of my book is spent arguing that the simplistic free-market picture of the world is too influential and that we really need to get rid of it from public debate. From time to time I wonder if I am being unfair and setting up a straw man. Then I look around and it really does seem that even (or especially?) influential, high-profile people do have this simplistic view of the way the world works stuck firmly in their brains. Greg Mankiw was Chairman of the President’s Council of
Economic Advisers from 2003 and 2005.
In Mankiw on Globalization: People Should Move Mark Thoma reports a panel discussion chaired by now ex-Harvard president Larry Summers:
Summers urged the economists, who kept returning to nuanced policy
discussions, to come up with more practical political advice. Referring to
Flint, Mich., where workers’ jobs are being outsourced, he challenged the
academics to come up with a realistic suggestion for the Buick-city mayor.
“That’s the political reality,” said Summers, pointing to former Senator Bob
Graham D-Fla. in the audience who was nodding in agreement. … “…Maybe the answer is [to] put an economics
course in every high school and we’ll be OK,” said Summers, taking a jab at
Mankiw who earlier suggested that introducing economic principles to Americans
in high school would help people better understand globalization.
“I don’t know about the mayor, but I know what the people should do,” Mankiw
said, “The people should move.”
Summers countered, “Where do you think the people in Flint should go?”…
Sometimes inept corporate management and government regulations have made such a mess of things… that it doesn’t make sense to stay…. like pissing into the wind. My ex-wife’s father continued to work in a microscope factory in China long after they had sold their last obsolete microscope, though problems with storing the output did sometimes interfere with the process of production.
If a laid-off factory worker in Flint asked you for advice….the possibility of moving to someplace that is hiring and full of vitality wouldn’t be one of the options you’d be suggesting?
Sure, if someone from Flint was daft enough to ask me for advice then I might ask if there is any way they can move. And for those who can move, all power and good luck to them.
But Greg Mankiw was, after all, the chair of the economic advisory body to the US government. And he didn’t “suggest” they move, he said:
“I know what the people should do. The people should move.”
Which is a lot stronger. It displays what an unawareness of practical realities — like how do you sell a house in Flint and move to, say Raleigh North Carolina? — that is callous. [Answer, of course, unless you were earning a lot more than most people in Flint, you don’t.] It also suggests that if they don’t move, well that’s their own lookout, and that the government has no role in assisting them in adjusting to the realities of a dying industry.
Well, that was the basis of my reaction, anyway.