Minority Opinions

Today I am grateful to live in a country that is relatively tolerant of people being different and having different views. That is a good thing, because the idea that there is a majority on any substantial combination of views is probably an illusion in the sense that people are consciously or subconsciously tilting their views into conformity with what they perceive to be the norm, while underneath, they may be much less alike than they are pretending to be.  

Within economics, there is an enormous variety of different views. That is an important reason why it is easy to feel that one’s work is underappreciated. Even if one strives mightily to be the best possible economist, and feels one has succeeded, the definition of “best” is dramatically different from one economist to the next. So how one’s paper fares at a journal, for example, depends a lot on the referee lottery: how close the gradient describing “better” that is in the mind of one’s referee is to being in the same direction as the gradient describing “better” in one’s own mind. There is no one unified evaluation criterion. To most of us it seems there should be a uniform evaluation criterion–the standards each one of us personal holds. But that is not the way it is; people are just too different. This is especially true in macroeconomics. I hear that the gradient defining “better” is a bit more similar among different microeconomic theorists than it is among macroeconomists. But even among microeconomic theorists tastes differ greatly from one person to the next. 

When people have different views–especially when they have different views on things that they care about even more than economists care about their own take on the discipline–it is crucial to have a system that allows people with different views to coexist well. Freedom within a relatively minimalist framework to preserve order is one of the best ways to allow people with dramatically different views to coexist well. There are other things that can help, but allowing each person a bubble of freedom around herhimself is the most basic. In comparison to the other alternatives on offer, the United States of America does pretty well at that.