Over at the NZ Herald, Jamie Whyte writes about the economic ignorance of the “stop state asset sales” crowd. Sadly, he lands a major own goal because he forgot to read what Matt Nolan wrote about communication between economists and non-economists.
He also forgot to read what both I and Eric Crampton have written about the waste of time that folk activism is. There isn’t much benefit to engaging with non-economists. They have to have an open mind and be willing to accept that maybe, just maybe, some people have thought about things more deeply than they have and that they might just be wrong.
The sort of people who support the Keep Our Assets campaign are the sort of people who are emotionally driven in politics and keen on fitting in with their social group. It’s an easy dinner party “in” to be against the mixed ownership model.
Being a progressive is cool – being an economist is absolutely not cool because it involves discussing mean things like trade-offs and how people respond to incentives. This is why I turned comments off and barely engage with people on Twitter – emotional reactions to evidence are the norm. Socratic dialogue will never happen on the internet, you have to drive it through your own engagement with different arguments from evidence.
That these people can completely ignore the fate of Solid Energy as a state owned enterprise (hint: it just got a major bailout) as compared to publicly listed coal companies (forced to justify each new capital project) shows how they are not concerned about the evidence of a particular policy and its welfare effects for society.
They’re concerned about what their precious feelings tell them about a policy. Evidence be damned, if they feel like something is a bad policy then they’ll move heaven and earth to obstruct it.
They reinforce my point by choosing a “Citizens Initiated Referendum” as their policy obstruction tool. It’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and be ignored by the government. How stupid do you have to be to think that your opinion matters? Democracy is a myth!
The funniest thing of all is the dismissive attitude towards economics in general – a classic case of finding the worst parts of a discipline and using them to criticise the whole. I mean, the medical profession used to be pretty keen on eugenics right? I doubt any of these people could even find Google Scholar to have a look at the empirical evidence on privatisation but they sure could spin a fact free story about “how Rogernomics and the neo-liberal agenda ruined this country”.