Don Boudreaux is less than happy with Michael Lind’s latest effort:
Put aside the questionable accuracy of Michael Lind’s suggestion that a significant fraction of Democrats are embracing “economic neoliberalism” while Republicans are having a “fling with radical free market libertarianism” (“Tripartism, American Style: The Past and Future of Sectoral Policy,” Spring 2020). Instead, focus on the utter vacuity of his case for adoption in the U.S. of industrial policy.
Mr. Lind, of course, is at no loss for words in describing all the good that he imagines will be the fruit of such a policy. Yet none of his 8,300 words – some of which, it’s true, he wastes in the disgraceful task of caricaturing Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek – give any hint about just how the politicians and bureaucrats invested with power to superintended and override market processes will acquire the knowledge necessary to perform the splendors that Mr. Lind imagines they will perform.
We’ve seen the interaction of Mr. Lind and economics before now.
One of America’s new intellectual stars is a young writer named Michael Lind, whose contrarian essays on politics have given him a reputation as a brilliant enfant terrible. In 1994 Lind published an article in Harper’s about international trade, which contained the following remarkable passage:
“Many advocates of free trade claim that higher productivity growth in the United States will offset pressure on wages caused by the global sweatshop economy, but the appealing theory falls victim to an unpleasant fact. Productivity has been going up, without resulting wage gains for American workers. Between 1977 and 1992, the average productivity of American workers increased by more than 30 percent, while the average real wage fell by 13 percent. The logic is inescapable. No matter how much productivity increases, wages will fall if there is an abundance of workers competing for a scarcity of jobs — an abundance of the sort created by the globalization of the labor pool for US-based corporations.” (Lind 1994: )
What is so remarkable about this passage? It is certainly a very abrupt, confident rejection of the case for free trade; it is also noticeable that the passage could almost have come out of a campaign speech by Patrick Buchanan. But the really striking thing, if you are an economist with any familiarity with this area, is that when Lind writes about how the beautiful theory of free trade is refuted by an unpleasant fact, the fact he cites is completely untrue.
Neither Professor Boudreaux or myself are entirely happy with everything that Paul Krugman says on the subject of economics but we’re certainly going to listen to his opinions upon trade. And, obviously, Mr. Lind’s ability to parse what economics has to say about itself.