– July 26, 2019
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Time was, members of America’s educated class, Left, Right, and Center, read serious work written by their ideological foes. Ideas once competed, and thinking people often modified their positions in light of new information or recognition of more cogent analysis. Where rational discourse remained insufficient to decide a matter, intellectuals searched out real world tests of their ideas. A few, like natural-resource economist Julian Simon and population bomber Paul Ehrlich, placed bets based on their diametrically opposed predictions of the future. (Simon won all five wagers with Ehrlich but died before he could place additional bets.)

Today, the Left and Right increasingly live in ideological bubbles (as in protective plastic coverings, not unsustainable increases in asset prices). A recent study shows that college-educated Democrats are less likely to know the views of Republicans on various important issues than Democrats without a high school diploma are! 

The study attributed the discrepancy to the fact that educated Democrats mostly live near and socially interact only with each other, but as Phil Magness and others have shown, the large left-leaning bias of most humanities and social science departments in the United States must also share blame for this lamentable state of affairs. Instead of teaching students how to think for themselves, their ancient liberal mission, many professors now inculcate ideological views instead. No wonder higher education appears to many outsiders to be a “racket.” Matters may be even worse in Europe.

So I took it in stride when two professors, one based in America and the other in Europe, recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “only the left has any tangible plans on how finance can be brought down to earth and tamed toward more humane ends.”  

Apparently nobody, not even the Gray Lady, rigorously fact checks anymore. Or is it that only books reviewed in a few elite outlets count and none happen to critique finance from the non-left? Heck, I can almost hear the editors ask themselves: Only people on the left write the right kind of books, right?

In short, I do not think it even occurred to the fact checkers at the New York Times, or the authors of the op-ed, to run even a simple Amazon search on a general term in common use in the field. One like, oh, I don’t know, “financial exclusion.” If they had, they would have found a recent book, authored by yours truly and published by AIER, definitely not from the perspective of the Left, right at the top of their search results.

For a measly $5, they could have downloaded the Kindle version immediately and read all about how the power of competition and free entry mitigated financial exclusion, discrimination, and predation in America for two centuries before ideologues on the left muddled it all up, and fomented a global financial crisis in the process.

Unfortunately, any lefty who happens across this post will probably be a troll tempted to “turn the tables” and accuse me of dwelling in my own, libertarian, bubble. But such trolls beware because I publish in left-leaning publications whenever they let me, including, most recently, in the Washington Post. I also presented a synopsis of my book’s findings at a radical-left heterodox conference, where, it appears, the program committee inaccurately assumed that I must be “one of them” because I, too, am concerned about issues of social justice. All they could stammer in response to my presentation was, paraphrasing here, “That isn’t right, because I say so.”

The biggest difference between my view of financial social justice and those of the op-ed authors is that I call for more competition while they call for more monopoly. Specifically, they pronounce a “plan” to protect governments from financial institutions hell-bent upon “wreaking havoc on the ability of countries to plan for a sustainable future.” Had they read Hayek, or Bastiat, or any of a dozen other classical liberal thinkers, they might have realized the folly of government planning and headed down a more empirical path.

Instead, they laud “plans” that have already been tried and found wanting, or that were tried, found successful, and are actually major parts of our political economy. Most embarrassingly for them, the op-ed authors claim that two progressive think tanks “have broke new ground [sic] by suggesting that employees could receive small stakes in the corporate dividends that normally only go to executives and stockholders.” 

Profit-sharing in America dates at least to the early 18th century and ESOPs (employee stock ownership programs) have been ubiquitous for more than a century. By 2016, America was home to over 6,600 ESOPs with 14.2 million participants. Almost two of every six corporations in the largely non-left Midwest and South have one, but in the left bastion of the Northeast, fewer than one in six do. If the authors spent more time reading broadly, and less time making plans, they might one day know enough about our complex world to do something useful, like effectively extolling the many merits of ESOPs and profit-sharing plans.

Apparently, though, many on the left are no longer interested in silly little annoyances like reality, so they see no need to actually study it. Assumption and gall will carry all.

Nota bene: I deliberately wrote this piece poolside in about two hours on an old Chromebook with a cruddy wifi connection, to show just how little research went into the New York Times op-ed that ignored my Financial Exclusion

I daresay in a month, at a proper computer, I could write another book dissecting every word of the piece. But why bother? The authors will just ignore that effort as well, as will the “failing” New York Times.  The New York Times of old would have reviewed any book, 400-plus pages in length, with over 900 references, written by a serious, experienced scholar, on such an important subject. But it cannot do so today, because the review, even if negative, might introduce its readers to competition, free entry, self-help, or other dangerous ideas. 

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Robert E. Wright

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Robert E. Wright is the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He is the author of 18 books, including a new book on financial exclusion published by AIER.

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