September 17, 2010 | By | 11 Replies More

Ian Fletcher has noticed that they don’t discuss economics much anymore. Instead, we mostly hear something that pretends to be economics but is judgmental lecturing unsupported by any critical thinking. He calls it “fakeonomics,” and it goes something like this…

  • Free markets are always right, always and everywhere.
  • Anyone who doesn’t believe this is stupid. Smart people not only understand that free markets are best, they like free markets, because free markets mean opportunities to get rich.

    Image by Tiero at Dreamstime (with permission)

  • Or maybe they’re corrupt. The opposite of free markets is government. Government is always incompetent. It never does anything right. Ever.
  • Or maybe they’re evil. Anyone who doesn’t believe in perfectly free markets is a Marxist wannabe or a loser jealous of more-successful people.
  • Free trade is just free markets applied internationally.
  • Therefore all smart, good, successful people must believe in free trade.


Category: Economy, ignorance

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tony Coyle says:


    I had a conversation (argument) this morning over breakfast in NYC (with a 'colleague from a competitor firm' – I work in a very small world!)

    His thesis was appallingly close to the one you present in your post! Obama 'would be' a socialist, but he's just not good enough a politicion – he ranted on about the 'reid pelosi' axis, and how we'll finally see some action after November when 'the real people speak up at last'.

    I was close to apoplectic.

    I asked where he got his information?

    Answer – Fox & WSJ.

    So I said – "and you're happy getting all your news from Rupert Murdoch?" (snappy rejoinder, huh?)

    I shared the not-so-recent studies about 'growth in income and wealth' and asked him which party exhibited the greatest wealth… he said "republican" – I said – that's not true for anyone…. aggregate growth under republicans has been much smaller for the past 50 years than under democrats – unless you happen to be in the top 2%. I pointed him to reports in "the Nation", "The Economist", and other publications that have shown this. I also suggested he look at the CBO statistics in their raw form and crunch the numbers huimself…

    He just refused to argue facts – and just went on about Obamacare, and creeping socialism. I asked what that had to do with economics, other than in a positive way (improved health = greater productivity …. demonstrably in study after study)

    Overall – a prime example of someone who is very well educated, applies deep critical thinking skills to his job, is entirely skeptical of 'non evidentiary claims' in that job, yet seems to be willing to take fakeonomics are gospel truth – because Fox & WSJ say it's so.

    It scared me, somewhat.

    I had to add a fourth group to my tea party stereotypes (rabid evangelicals, Randian libertarians, angry poor white people [in Gabby-speak "The president's a ni**er"]). I'm calling my fourth group the unintelligentia – because they are educated, republican, and relatively well off, but have listed to the talking points for so long they can't see anything else (it's a deeply embedded mental construct that makes it impossible for them to see the same reality we do).

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Tony: I've met more than a few of these folks too. It's pretty amazing to see someone who is skeptical and self-critical in many areas of life (how to buy a car, how to fix a dishwasher, how to play a musical instrument, how to analyze a business spreadsheet) put up a huge knowledge shield when it comes to other areas. They can successfully do it, too. They can put their fingers in their ears and sing "La Tee Dah" and then straight-face claim that there was nothing important about that thing they avoided hearing, even though they didn't pay attention. Or maybe more accurate, they listened only long enough to know whether it would threaten their world view, then after they deemed it a threat, they immediately slammed their mind.

      It reminds me of someone dealing with a food that tastes rotten. They quickly react, maybe even before the mind is fully engaged. It's like there's a manipulative and paranoid little mind protecting the big, more capable, mind. The big mind is being kept in the dark by the little mind. This must play into the confirmation bias and Haidt's elephant. Burton's writings on "certainty" also shed some light. It also seems to bear on the "toxic thoughts" that are characteristic of dissociate states. This is admittedly a lot of speculation and it is not scientific, but the phenomenon you describe is absolutely real. I'm fascinated by this idea of a paranoid little mind protecting the big mind. Why not two minds in one? This also reminds me of the subject matter explored by "Terror Management Theory."

  2. The bottom line for people like that, Tony, has nothing to do with economics but a misplaced sense of personal power.

    They don't want to pay for people they don't know (and likely don't like).

    That's it.

    This has been the underlying argument against every state-sponsored entitlement program since FDR's pot pouri of alphabet soup programs. Citizen A doesn't want to be taxed to give money to Citizen B for supposedly "doing nothing." This is more of the same.

    Yes, it would be nice if everyone had access to health care. But THEY should pay for it, not me.

    Yes, it would be nice if everyone had access to higher education. But THEY should pay for it, not me.

    Yes, it would be nice if there was a reasonable safety net for people who can't find jobs. But THEY should have saved their money for the hard times instead of taxing me.

    (That the direct link to taxes is not there in many cases is beside the point.)

    I have heard this time and again from conservatives of this school. "People who don't work shouldn't get money (or services)." And when you ask in response, "What if they can't find work?"

    Either such people are not looking hard enough or…it's not my responsibility.

    They run out of ideas after you press them to wall about the unemployment rate and the way the system is set up to guarantee a minimum of 4% unemployed etc etc. They keep it all in the realm of Other People's Failed Moral Responsibility vs. MY MONEY. Once you leave that arena, they have no sound arguments and fall back on "why should I be made responsible for that?"

    All factual input is rerouted to accommodate this simple, basic bit of inanity.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Mark: Maybe one rhetorical approach, then, is to remind the "it's not my responsibility" folks that they are part of the interconnected web that benefits THEM for numerous things THEY don't pay for. That should be the working premise. Libraries, roads, military. Remind them that even private insurance gives (some) people benefits that they themselves didn't pay for.

  3. Addendum: the fear of Socialism is buried deep in our national psyche from the bad old days of the Cold War when it was perceived that Communism was not so much an economic system but a godless ideology that turned people into components of a Group Mind and stripped them of individuality. It's a real science fiction idea, but that is really where this unreasoning fear comes from. It's not that the services and support mechanisms matter so much as that once we're Socialist we'll just be robots—really and truly incapable of exercising independent thought. The movie "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is emblematic of this. People took it to heart and recoiled in horror from Communism and Socialism because they were afraid of turning into Pod People. This still informs the debate.

  4. Tony Coyle says:


    I tried that ('it's all part of the pot' approach) with my 'chum' yesterday.

    No sale.

    He sees himself as being where he is entirely on his own terms – no support from anyone else.

    But – he used public schools and publicly supported tertiary education (people conveniently forget where most of the research money that funds colleges comes from). He used public roads to travel on, and also used regulated and publicly funded infrastructure to ensure the vehicles he used were safe and reasonably fuel efficient. He ate food that was safer due to regulation and publicly funded inspection, and used publicly funded services for fresh water for drinking, bathing, and cleaning, as well as publicly funded sewage.

    His publicly funded police and fire departments have ensured his physical safety, and publicly funded medical regulation and oversight ensured the efficacy and purity of any medications or treatments he required.

    The problem with the 'Why should I pay for Them' crowd, is that they are simply and fundamentally selfish. Me. Me. me.

    Sometimes I wish they'd just all move to Texas, close the borders, and leave us all alone. We'll re-annex the land when they see sense (perhaps around the time they re-institute cannibalism)

  5. Tony Coyle says:


    Re Socialism, the Cold War, and the scar on the American Psyche.

    I couldn't agree more. In a similar vein, our modern day evangelic revisionists would rather forget that "Under God" was not in our oath until 1954 (almost 200 years!) Did our founding fathers make a mistake? No! But the rampant fear of the godless commie made otherwise sensible people follow along like sheep when the McCarthyites forced passage of that modification – as a "defiant declaration" to those godless hordes!

    The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has happened. The Pod People (PP) are here – and they are modern-day evangelical right wing christians (O'Donnell and Palin are the pin-up-girls of PP).

  6. Tony, Erich,

    The reason people like Tony's "chum" see things that way is because they believe that, regardless where the support for the institution came from in the first place, it remains entirely the individual's prerogative to make use of them in a positive and entirely the individual's initiative to take what they got from those things and turn them into upward mobility. The assumption being that if those infrastructures were not in place, they would simply have found another way to be successful. Ergo, it's entirely their effort, independent of anyone or anything else.

    Yes, I find it narrow, solipsistic, and ultimately stupid, but there you have it. These folks believe they'd be at the same level of the hierarchy regardless of the environment in which they act.

  7. Tony Coyle says:


    You're right. They make the assumption that they would be on top, regardless.

    In a similar vein, I sometimes wonder how many libertarians would survive in a real libertarian environment (as Heinlein* was wont to say in many of his stories – no rules makes for a very polite society – all the obnoxious ones quickly get eliminated, one way or another)

    *not to suggest Heinlein was libertarian – but it certainly allowed him a great deal of freedom to play with characters, plot and settings.

  8. For an idea of how Heinlein actually thought Liberarian societies might be, read the novelette "Coventry."

    I suspect that Heinlein's actual attitude toward such things was to deny the idea that any one political system has a "natural" right to exist. They are all compromises, impositions, jerrymandered rube goldberg constructions, some worse than others, some possibly quite workable, but none of them is innately or inherently "right."

    Hence the libertarian label with which he is often slapped.

  9. Tony Coyle says:

    Mark – I agree completely (and in re-reading my comment's final sentence, note that 'it' refers to libertarianism as a ploy device. I don't think that Heinlein was in any way a 'libertarian', although he often "played one on TV".

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