Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Scooped?

Sometimes it's frustrating for economists. We revel in the fact that we can pin down theoretical proposals in an airtight mathematical argument, and test them with some of the most sophisticated statistical techiniques. Even as we toil in the fuzzy world of "social" science, we push for and challenge the other social sciences to be "harder" in their scientific approaches, and we're just arrogant enough to think that we're better at what "they" (political scientists, sociologists, etc.) do than "they" themselves are. It's not surprising then that "we" get so jealous when one of "them" gets all the attention for saying what we've been saying – studying, measuring and quantifying – for quite some time.

That's why I'm jealous of Fareed Zakaria this week. His feature article this week has the indifference one would normally expect from an economist on the issue of "The Rise of the Rest." The nuts and bolts of it is that when you pose the question of rising China and India, offshoring, growth in Africa, and declines in certain manufacturing sectors of the U.S., the typical economist like myself says "So what?" I would then usually go into some boring, but well-vetted explanation of comparative advantage, non-zero-sum games, obscure empirical facts, and nearly put my audience to sleep.

Then here comes this… journalist, who has his fancy "words" (much like I have my fancy "models") and he gets the limelight. It's disgusting really. We do all the hard work, howl at the moon to anyone who might listen, and in swoops this very bright wise guy and publishes it all in a sexy multi-page spread in Newsweek. But, that's the way it goes. Bottom line: the rest of the world's rise is not our loss. In fact if the rest of the world has greater prosperity and economic freedoms, then the influence of extremist factions will probably wane, which is a win-win. But don't take my word for it – go to the library and read Mr. Zakaria's version – his way sounds better (jerk).

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