Defending My Drivel

by Don Boudreaux on July 9, 2022

in Complexity & Emergence, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:

Mr. P__:

Describing my latest essay for AIER as “pap to distract attention from the severe problems humanity is now confronted by,” you wonder why I “waste time writing such starry eyed drivel.”

My simple answer is that, while my prose might indeed be drivel, I don’t believe the substantive points in my essay are pap. It’s true that these points aren’t original to me; they’ve been known to competent economists for generations. But a great deal – I believe most – of the commentary that today is featured in major media outlets, on social media, in classrooms, and in political discussions reveals that very many people do not begin to appreciate just how utterly yet productively dependent each of us is on the knowledge and work effort of millions (and in some cases billions) of strangers from around the world. Today’s global economy works so smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly at productively coordinating the efforts of multitudes of strangers that we notice only the economy’s relatively few shortcomings and occasional hiccups. I believe that we should notice also, and celebrate, its countless silent successes – successes that occur literally every moment of every day and overwhelm, by orders of many magnitudes, its shortcomings and hiccups.

Contrary to your claim, I’ve never denied that the global economy has some real problems. But to have any hope of identifying actual, correctable problems – and of distinguishing real problems from the mere results of inescapable trade-offs – we must first appreciate just how remarkable is the daily coordination achieved by the global price system. The point of my essay is to instill such an appreciation.

You call this appreciation “starry eyed” because it reveals that the global market economy, by any reasonable standard, works remarkably – indeed, astonishingly – well. I call this appreciation realistic because, well, it is.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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