In Principle I’m in Favor of Spending Money on Economists

Michael Giberson

George Soros has promised to spend $5 million a year for 10 years to support an Institute for New Economic Thinking to be hosted at Central European University in Budapest.  According to the INET website, the Institute will make research grants, convene symposia, and establish a journal. As part of the announcement, Soros said:

The entire edifice of global financial markets has been erected on the false premise that markets can be left to their own devices, we must find a new paradigm and rebuild from the ground up. I decided to sponsor INET to facilitate the process. I hope others will join me.

I’d be surprised if we could find any significant part of the “global financial market” that wasn’t thoroughly entangled with law, regulation and politics, so I’m not sure which edifice he is talking about or where it has been erected. Furthermore, the idea that we can discard an existing social system, “find a new paradigm and rebuild from the ground up”, strikes me as intellectual arrogance of a very high order.

But he’s going to spend a lot of money on economists, and in any case I accept the premise that philanthropists should largely be left to their own devices, so I say he should go for it.  It’s Soros’s money – largely built up from participating in that edifice of global financial markets, I understand – and he may as well spend it this way as on fancy cars or the Center for American Progress.

(But whatever you think of economics, economists, or heterodox viewpoints, it seems odd to characterize winners of the Nobel price in economics and other distinguished economists as having been “marginalized” in the profession, as Michael Hirsch does in this Newsweek story on the INET announcement when he mentions the board of advisers.  Yes, yes, pity the poor economist who was “marginalized” into tenured faculty position at some of the top universities in the world: Cal-Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge.  In addition to the Nobel Prize, we have John Bates Clark awardees, former members of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and so on.  The INET board of advisers is a collection of talented and honored members of the profession.  Hirsch is discovering victims who perhaps didn’t notice their victimization during the recent spell of “free market fundamentalism” Hirsch observes in economics.)

4 thoughts on “In Principle I’m in Favor of Spending Money on Economists

  1. When Soros said ” the false premise that markets can be left to their own devices,” maybe he meant “the false premise that we are capable of leaving markets to their own devices.”

    Can’t disagree with that.

  2. The “market” is a setting in which “individuals” make economic choices. The “market” has no capacity for action or cognition. Only individuals act. There is no free-market fundamentalism anywhere on Earth. Our political economy is corporatist. Politically favored businesses seek access to government’s monopoly of legalized violence to fill their own coffers with little of no concern for the masses. The real false premise is that individuals in a government setting can be left to their own devices.


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