The Good-Citizen Economist

Don Boudreaux’s latest column is about how economists can use their knowledge to make the world a better place. Worth a read.

Most people might think an economist’s greatest non-academic contribution could be advising policymakers, but that isn’t actually true. Any politician worth his salt will listen to the median voter, not to some pointy-headed academic telling him to do something unpopular.

No, an economist’s highest civic contribution is teaching that median voter. When it comes to economic knowledge, this person is really, truly a boob. Familiarizing him with the basics of the economic way of thinking is a lifelong project. It is also a necessary one, even though it will almost certainly not pay immediate dividends the way that advising a president might.

But if the median voter were one day to learn how to spot, say, the broken window fallacy, then politicians will learn it, too. The resulting policy changes would make the world a better, richer, and more peaceful place. It’s a long game, but the only way to win it is to play.