Economics

Poverty and Bleeding-Heart Libertarians

Re: my earlier post on Steve Levitt, reader Daniel Elmore writes in and says I might be mistaken:

Levitt wasn’t surprised that a believer in markets can care about alleviating poverty. He was surprised that Becker would say that “to understand and alleviate poverty” was the answer to the question of what he thought the “only purpose of economics was.” That is surprising… the most common answer to such a question, at least in academia (at both the undergraduate and graduate level) is something along the lines of “to study the allocation of scarce resources in the face of unlimited desires.”

Two things are worth mentioning in response. First, Elmore is right that this is often the standard framework for thinking about economics at the undergraduate and graduate level. And it is something Arnold Kling and I are hoping to change with a forthcoming book called From Poverty to Prosperity (look for it in book stores in a few months). Our view is that abundance, growth, and entrepreneurship do not get the attention they deserve, particularly by policy makers.

The other point is it is clear from Levitt’s comment about Becker’s political affiliation and advocacy of free markets that concern for the poor implies, at least in Levitt’s view, a certain political allegiance and a view of market economics. But most of the serious free market folks I know are what Kling calls “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” and their interest in and advocacy of free markets emerges from concerns about social justice. It is too bad Levitt would find this surprising.

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