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Bryan Caplan On the Many Myths Busted by a Good Course in Labor Economics

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Normally I would include in my “Some Links” feature this EconLog post by Bryan Caplan [2].  But it is so good that it deserves to stand alone.  In it, Bryan explains that a good course in Labor Economics – such as the one he teaches at the undergraduate level at George Mason University – dispels an unusually large number of economically baseless myths.  (This course, by the way, is the same one [3] in which Bryan sensibly does not waste his students’ time exploring allegations of “dynamic monopsony power” in the modern American market for low-skilled workers.)

Here are some links from Bryan’s recent post:

My 13-year-old homeschooled [4] sons just finished my labor economics [5] class.  I hope they take many more economics classes, but I’ll be perfectly satisfied with their grasp of economics as long as they internalize what they learned this semester.  Why?  Because a good labor economics class contains everything you need to see through the central tenets of our society’s secular religion.  Labor economics stands against the world.  Once you grasp its lessons, you can never again be a normal citizen.

What are these “central tenets of our secular religion” and what’s wrong with them?

Tenet #1: The main reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living is that government passed a bunch of laws protecting them.

Critique: High worker productivity plus competition between employers [6] is the real reason today’s workers have a decent standard of living.  In fact, “pro-worker” laws have dire negative side effects for workers [7], especially unemployment.


Tenet #8: Overpopulation is a terrible social problem.

Critique: The positive externalities of population – especially idea externalities – far outweigh [8] the negative.  Reducing population to help the environment is using a sword to kill a mosquito.

Yes, I’m well-aware the most labor economics classes either neglect these points, or strive for “balance.”  But as far as I’m concerned, most labor economists just aren’t doing their job.  Their lingering faith in our society’s secular religion clouds their judgment – and prevents them from enlightening their students and laying the groundwork for a better future.