Born Poor?

Sam-bowles-2-l Via Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber, a profile of Samuel Bowles in The Santa Fe Reporter:

“In the wake of what happened in the last year, it’s much easier for an economist to describe himself as being liberal, maybe even Social Democratic,” Henry Farrell, a political science associate professor at George Washington University, tells SFR. “Sam Bowles is still unashamedly and unabashedly a radical—God bless him.”

However, Farrell says, Bowles’ radicalism kept him from finding a wider audience.

Now it’s the free marketeers who have a hard time being taken seriously. Last month, The New Yorker described defections and “turmoil” within the Chicago School. Even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, a hero to free marketeers, admits that his way of understanding the world was wrong.

Bowles is keenly aware that this crisis presents an opportunity. “It’s not just that the Chicago School is on the ropes—it’s that people are much more sympathetic to people who have less income,” Bowles says. “That attitude—‘Hey, it could happen to me’—is something the Great Depression taught us.”

Sympathy was forgotten in the boom times. But thanks to the hardships of today, “it’s coming back with a vengeance,” Bowles says.

With it, the influence of what Farrell calls “the Santa Fe approach to economics” may also be growing.

Last year, Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics. “She’s not a radical by any stretch of the imagination but, in terms of the methods she uses and the questions she’s interested in, she’s closer to Bowles than anybody. She is probably the only Nobel Prize winner in the last 20 years to have cited Bowles extensively and to be genuinely influenced by him,” Farrell says.

Ostrom doesn’t distance herself from that assessment. “I have great respect for professor Samuel Bowles,” she writes in an email to SFR. “I have worked with several of his PhDs who do simply outstanding experimental research.”

If Bowles has a following among people who think for a living, the people who actually make decisions have some catching up to do.

And so here, in plain English, is the implication of Bowles’ basic ideas: The US and New Mexico will keep falling behind until they learn to share the wealth.