The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies

By Bryan Caplan | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

“MARKET FUNDAMENTALISM” VERSUS THE
RELIGION OF DEMOCRACY

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Bertrand Russell1

ECONOMISTS perennially debate each other about how well the free market works. They have to step outside their profession to remember how much—underneath it all—they agree.2 For economists, greedy intentions establish no presumption of social harm. Indeed, their rule of thumb is to figure out who could get rich by solving a problem— and start worrying if no one comes to mind. Most noneconomists find this whole approach distasteful, even offensive. Disputes between economists are quibbles by comparison.

Out of all their contrarian views, nothing about economists aggravates other intellectuals more than their sympathy for markets. As Melvin Reder aptly states, comprehension of mainstream economics “tends to generate appreciation of the merits of laissez-faire even when that appreciation does not extend to acceptance.”3 Left to their own devices, “normal” intellectuals could spend their careers cataloging human greed and the evils that flow from it. But economists stand in their midst, a fifth column, using their mental gifts to defend the enemy.

The hostility that economists provoke is evident from all the namecalling. Karl Marx, the classic poison pen, accused Ricardo and his fellow classical economists of “miserable sophistry,” of suffering from “the obsession that bourgeois production is production as such, just like a man who believes in a particular religion and sees it as the religion, and everything outside of it only as false religions.” For Marx, economists are apologists for the bourgeoisie, who “set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade” and replaced the feudal era's “exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions” with “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”4 Rosa Luxemburg, in her essay “What is Economics?” proclaims with disgust that

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