Saturday, January 21, 2012

Economist's critique of economists

Thanks to Roy Madron for drawing this Guardian article by Bernard Harcourt to my attention along with the following text:

"The contention from an economist, a politician, a pundit or columnist opining about what Occupy Wall Street must do to succeed is no longer a fully meaningful sentence because the authors of those sentences themselves have failed.

That seems to be a central message of the Occupy movement: the purported experts are precisely the ones who got us in this situation that so many perceive as intolerable – a condition of continuously increasing inequality where, today, "the 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans." That, I take it, is the guiding Jacobin spirit of this new form of political disobedience, but without the Jacobin leadership. And it is precisely the leaderlessness that accentuates the new syntactic challenges: those who are trying to "steer" Occupy Wall Street in the "right direction" – whether with good or ill will – have already failed miserably and, as a result, there is no authorial grammar to their statements.

Harcourt is the author of  The Illusion of Free Markets and this review shows his position
Professor Bernard Harcourt has recently released a compelling book "The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Social Order." Harcourt, a professor of law and chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago, painstakingly traces the parallel historical trend of increasing punishment during eras of strong free market advocacy.
Harcourt's Illusion presents crucial historical evidence that when nations' focus on freeing their trading and capital markets, there is always a concomitant rise in that nation's imprisonment and incarceration rates. Of course, the rise in incarceration is always of the nation's poor and disempowered.

Harcourt's thesis perfectly situates the failed American War on Drugs. The explosive rise in mass incarceration in the United States over the past 25 years (imprisonment increase of 335% as a result of the War on Drugs) occurred when the presidential administrations of Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. simultaneously worked tirelessly to deregulate the U.S. capital markets. Free market advocacy and deregulation have been occurring at exactly the same time that prison rates and populations have been skyrocketing. Harcourt describes how this is not just an American anomaly, but is a global historical reality.

The question that this historical reality begs is why?
Why during eras of powerful free market advocacy do governments' radically imprison their own citizens?

A great question that no economist seems willing to hear, let alone try to answer. "

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