The received wisdom of ‘market capitalism’?

I don’t know what to think of “Economics Does Not Lie” by Guy Sorman in the I-just-learned-it-existed City Journal. It’s reasonable and well-argued, even as it seems to push the buttons of the anti-economics set, and even as it seems to commit many of the same sins as those pesky “principles of economics“. The agenda seems to be a vigorous defense of the capitalist economy – almost too vigorous, with plenty of pro-America, anti-‘western Europe’ digs. Weird? Hold that thought.

In the meaty bit of the article, Sorman begins:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions… The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

OK, so I’m interested; seems like what we have might be an alternative list of what Mankiw calls “principles” (I despair of ever actually getting a proper use of the word in this context). Sorman discusses them at length, but here’s the list:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.
2. Free trade helps economic development.
3. Good institutions help development.
4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.
5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.
6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.
7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.
8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.
9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.
10. Competition is usually desirable.

First of all, I don’t disagree with the assertion that “almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse” this list, although that’s obviously verging on the tautology of the clique. As a list of the received wisdom, it’s not bad at all, then.

Nevertheless, though this is a relatively less noxious list than Mankiw’s ‘principles’, it can maybe be taken as received wisdom, but certainly not as axioms (not, to be clear, that Sorman makes any such claim). Where it fails, it fails because it suffers from the same diseases. What, for example, am I to make of the first one? Exactly what is the ‘market economy’ most efficient at achieving? Correct me if I’m wrong, but you can’t just be ‘efficient’ in and of itself, right?

Aside from these familiar complaints of mine, there are a couple of other things worth mentioning, most especially this claim:

Now only one economic system exists: market capitalism.

Not only untrue, but completely untrue. Just as no country has ever tried to implement a wholly communist allocation of resources, no country has ever tried to implement a wholly capitalist allocation of resources. The accurate statement would be that the “markets with government” hybrid system is the dominant one in the modern world – as I’ve talked about before. As Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises blog points out in his response to Sorman’s article, Sorman himself isn’t even talking about “market capitalism”, but about the hybrid system, which is further testament to its ubiquity.

Remember that thought we were holding? Here’s the very last line of the article:

His article was translated from the French by Ralph C. Hancock.

Might the agenda simply be a reflection of the precariousness of the ideology of markets in France? Not such an outlandish proposition…

One thought on “The received wisdom of ‘market capitalism’?

  1. Sorman sounds like a cargo cultist to me. He doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but he’s going to try to take credit for the delivery anyway.Some of the quotes you provide of his words are profoundly ignorant. To speak with half of one’s mouth about science, and with the other half about what “top economists” might or might not endorse. As if it argues for the validity of his position. This is a man who doesn’t know what science is, who doesn’t understand the underlying concept of economics, and thinks that it’s all just a contest between idea-systems, in a way that could be called “vulgar Marxism”.One can understand where his errors stem from, in this modern society where “capitalism” actually means “Keynesian half-socialism”, but wrong is wrong.Whether “economics” itself lies is beside the point. Most of the people who masquerade as economists certainly do, Sorman included.


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