Saturday, December 17, 2011

Are economists selfish?

Yoram Bauman takes up the question in a NY Times opinion piece, based on his research.  In essence, he finds that being an economics major and taking classes in economics are negatively correlated with how much students donate to two particular charities: WashPIRG and Affordable Tuition Now.

I agree with Yoram's concluding sentence: "Learning about the shortcomings as well as the successes of free markets is at the heart of any good economics education, and students — especially those who are not destined to major in the field — deserve to hear both sides of the story." 

Yet I am not persuaded by the evidence he gives that economics classes are failing to do that.  Maybe, having heard both sides of the story, the students make better decisions, just not the ones that Yoram appears to approve of!  Perhaps the students were persuaded by this famous insight: "By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." 

And no, that is not Gordon Gekko.