Globalization, so it is claimed, has created a single system of capitalism driven by international competition (ignoring the very real differences between, say, China and the United States). We now have an economics profession that hardly ever discusses its fundamental subject, “capitalism.”
Many economists say that what matters are questions like whether markets are competitive or monopolistic, or how monetary policy works. Using broad, ill-defined notions like capitalism invites ideological grandstanding and distracts from the hard technical problems.
There is a lot in that argument. Economists do much better when they tackle small, well-defined problems. As John Maynard Keynes put it, economists should become more like dentists: modest people who look at a small part of the body but remove a lot of pain.
However, there are also downsides to approaching economics as a dentist would: above all, the loss of any vision about what the economic system should look like. Even Keynes himself was driven by a powerful vision of capitalism. He believed it was the only system that could create prosperity, but it was also inherently unstable and so in need of constant reform. This vision caught the imagination of a generation that had experienced the Great Depression and World War II and helped drive policy for nearly half a century. He was, as the economist Robert Heilbroner claimed, a “worldly philosopher,” alongside such economic visionaries as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx.
In the 20th century, the main challenge to Keynes’s vision came from economists like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who envisioned an ideal economy involving isolated individuals bargaining with one another in free markets. Government, they contended, usually messes things up. Overtaking a Keynesianism that many found inadequate to the task of tackling the stagflation of the 1970s, this vision fueled neoliberal and free-market conservative agendas of governments around the world.
THAT vision has in turn been undermined by the current crisis. It took extensive government action to prevent another Great Depression, while the enormous rewards received by bankers at the heart of the meltdown have led many to ask whether unfettered capitalism produced an equitable distribution of wealth. We clearly need a new, alternative vision of capitalism. But thanks to decades of academic training in the “dentistry” approach to economics, today’s Keynes or Friedman is nowhere to be found.
So it’s not that much of a stretch to claim that we are “uninformed” about the capitalist system but to jump immediately to the conclusions in the Mises blog post is quite the stretch. I’m also going to go ahead and agree with moorewr that the claims made at the link reach “self-parody escape velocity…”
h/t: everyone with a blog on tumblr this morning or so it seems.