Ed Glaeser, Richard Green, economics, and freedom

My wonderful colleague Richard Green takes issue with Ed Glaeser’s essay in the New York Times about how economics has a moral core centered on freedom of choice. Let’s just say: barf. I don’t think we should be in the business of conflating economics with markets, for one.

Richard smartly points out that most tenured professors, particularly somebody like Ed Glaeser, have never had their backs up against the wall when it comes to anything, let alone having to chose between letting your husband beat your face in or be a single mother making minimum wage with a toddler. Yes, she’s got choices, but the rest of us have a moral obligation to her, her child, and her abuser and that obligation is not to lecture her about her choices—it’s to reflexively examine her constraints and ask how we socially and economically have co-constructed those constraints–with her and with him. And to deal with the crisis.

Poverty affects what you can even dream, let alone choose. Why that’s hard to understand is beyond me. When everybody you see on television and movies are from the city and trust funders, there is no reason to believe that you will have a better life leaving your coal mining town than you would living in a city where you know no one and where you are basically in the same labor market as unskilled rural labor from anywhere else in the world.

What markets have as their more core: the freedom for individuals to optimize, given their constraints. I do think markets can shift constraints, and lift them outwards. But don’t blow smoke up my butt about how there are no social, political, and cultural constraints for individuals in markets, or that markets make those magically disappear.

Please God, Ed, use your big brain to make useful points. I’m too old for a freaky deaky Milton Friedmann renaissance. Aren’t there any young libertarian philosophers out there with new points to make? Thomas Sowell HAS to have some students running around with something new and clever to say about freedom rather than rehashing this stuff.