Here’s an idea for next Friday’s date night: Robert Reich has a new movie coming out (yes, you read that right) that is being billed as An Inconvenient Truth for economics. Not surprisingly, it’s called “Inequality for All,” and it’s pretty much what you’d expect given the title.
The article linked to above is particularly interesting because it discusses how Reich feels like a failure to some degree because he hasn’t been able to enact change in order to combat what he views as a severe problem of rising inequality in the United States. I feel his pain, albeit on the level of people not learning or understanding basic economic concepts as opposed to people not being moved by my normative value judgments, so I kind of want to give Reich a hug.
I also find Reich to be an interesting character because he illustrates some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise as a result of studying economics- as social scientists, economists learn how to evaluate markets and economies mainly on efficiency grounds, since efficiency is something that is, while not always perfectly measured, certainly easier to measure that fairness. That said, there is a general tension between efficiency and fairness, and the appropriate tradeoff between the two is far from obvious. As a result, economists often disagree not only on the efficiency implications of economic inequality but also on how much efficiency is worth sacrificing in the name of equality. As such, it’s not surprising that economists such as Reich and Joe Stiglitz have taken the approach of arguing that we’ve gotten to a point as a society that increasing economic equality would actually increase overall economic health as well. (You can basically think of them as the flip side of economists like Greg Mankiw.)
Reich was on the Daily Show the other day, and hie extended interview is worth watching, especially the end of the second part where Reich explains how television producers don’t like it when economists agree too much:
I can’t help but think that Jon Stewart was just really happy to finally get to introduce someone shorter than himself.