Monday, May 7, 2018

I am slandered (or at least misunderstood) by The Economist for writing about repugnant transactions

You would think that writers for a magazine/newspaper called The Economist would read some economics before writing about it.

Yet here, in a piece on what economists do
Economists focus too little on what people really care about
The fourth in our series on the profession’s shortcomings,
is this:

"Indeed, economists often work on the basis that tangible costs and benefits outweigh subjective values. Alvin Roth, for example, suggests that moral qualms about “repugnant transactions” (such as trading in human organs) should be swept aside in order to realise the welfare gains that a market in organs would generate. Perhaps so, but to draw that conclusion while dismissing such concerns, rather than treating them as principles which might also contribute to human well-being, is inappropriate. "

I don't think I dismiss such concerns when I write about them, e.g. here:
Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets
Alvin E. Roth, JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES, VOL. 21, NO. 3, SUMMER 2007, (pp. 37-58)

But reading is hard, and deadlines are short.

For those who prefer to listen, I'll be speaking about repugnance with my colleague, the eminent philosopher Debra Satz, on Philosophy Talk Radio on  Sunday, June 3, at 11am (pacific) on KALW 91.7 FM Local Public Radio, San Francisco.  (I believe there will be a podcast of the show available afterwards...)

Update: now that I think of it, repugnance is one of the parts of economics The Economist has trouble with.  Here's an earlier blog post, in which I remarked "It's nice to be quoted, not so nice to be misunderstood."...

Friday, March 2, 2018

Further update: Economists and economic journalists might have different ideas about this sort of thing, so I was gratified by this expression of support from Tim Harford, one of this generation's most distinguished economic journalists:

I choked on my coffee when I read that line in The Economist. I think they owe Al an apology. It seemed a strange claim.

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