Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why people hate economics :: Arnold Kling

If there was no God, we'd make Her up. This also means humans impute evil where there is none.

Paul Bloom's essay "Is God an Accident?" in the latest issue of The Atlantic, suggests that humans' belief in God, Intelligent Design, and the afterlife is an artifact of brain structure. In this essay, I am going to suggest that the same artifact that explains why people are instinctively anti-Darwin explains why they are instinctively anti-economic.

Bloom says that we use one brain mechanism to analyze the physical world, as when we line up a shot on the billiard table. We use another brain mechanism to interact socially, as when we try to get a date for the prom.

The analytical brain uses the principles of science. It learns to make predictions of the form, "When an object is dropped, it will fall toward the earth."

The social brain uses empathy. It learns to guess others' intentions and motives in order to predict their reactions and behavior.

The difference between analytical and social reasoning strikes me as similar to the difference that I once drew between Type C and Type M arguments. I wrote, "Type C arguments are about the consequences of policies. Type M arguments are about the alleged motives of individuals who advocate policies."

Type C arguments about policy come from the analytical brain and reflect impersonal analysis. Type M arguments come from the social brain. In my view, they inject emotion, demagoguery, and confusion into discussions of economic policy.
. . .
The many political crusades against Wal-Mart reflect type M thinking. For example, the state of Maryland, where I live, is considering legislation forcing Wal-Mart to provide expensive health insurance to its employees.

The type M brain sees Wal-Mart management as Scrooge, and Maryland's politicians as the ghosts that are going to get the company to see the evil of its ways. However, Basic type C economics says that forcing the company to provide more health insurance benefits would lead to
lower wages for Wal-Mart workers.
Read the whole thing.

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