Efficient outrage

Matt Damon put yet another foot in his already quite full mouth this week. In an interview with ABC, he was invited to discuss the reckoning of sexual harassment and assault in his and other industries. He decided, for some reason, to go to bat for the idea that not enough is being made of what he perceives as a gradation of harm across different manifestations of workplace misogyny. Implicit is an attack on those who would advocate swift and severe punishment for what Damon would have us believe are minor sins.

I want to make the case that textbook economic theory will firmly reject Damon’s line of reasoning. Outrage of the type that Damon describes is more than justified, it is efficient. The market and the law don’t have the tools to reckon with the full, true cost of misogyny. This market failure makes for fertile soil for institutions that force perpetrators and enablers to internalize some of those costs. Outrage-of-the-day culture invites a lot of criticism from those looking to score a cool, contrarian take, but it is smart economics.

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“Economist”

Published today at The Upshot: What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists? by Wren McDonald. I want to pick up on a couple of points raised since they really get at things I’ve written and obsessed about a lot over the years.

I agree wholeheartedly with the article’s premise that sociology—in particular ethnography—and other academic disciplines can bring just as much or more relevant knowledge and expertise to public policy debates as economics can. I’m going to get a bit depressing in a minute here so I don’t mean this to come across as a backhanded compliment or something. I do mean it seriously. My criticisms here are directed at very small words in the article that aren’t really about the article at all, but about us, economists, and our relationship to various publics, our professional PR, our toxic guild label. On the actual content of the article, the premise, the spirit, the recommendations I am quite on board.

Alright, let’s do this.

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Dinner party advice for the economist

From The Economist’s Free Exchange blog, comes some dinner party advice, based on Justin Wolfers:

JUSTIN WOLFERS discusses a common problem for the economist bon vivant—people are always asking you what’s going to happen to such and such economic variable. Will the economy go into recession? Will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates? Should I sell my shares in Bear Stearns?

Very true. It’s no fun at all to have to admit to being an economist.

On the Venn diagram of ‘what people think of when they meet someone who introduces themselves as an economist’, macroeconomic stuff (inflation, unemployment) and finance (stocks, commodities, assets) are huge whopping great circles, much bigger than they are on the ‘what economists do’ diagram. Hence the point of this site, I suppose.

Anyway, here’s some advice:

Henceforth, when asked about oil prices, simply throw out some jargon, use phrases like “short-run volatility”, and then suggest that the price in three months’ time, or indeed a year, will be the same as it is today.

I love it.