The Fight Over Economics Is A Fight Over Culture

The Left long ago figured out how to get ordinary people interested in economic policy. The strategy is two pronged. The first part is to frame the problem as a moral problem. The second part is to make the fight over economic policy into a fight over something much bigger than economics: it's a fight between views of what it means to be a good person. The Left knows how to make the war over economics into a war over culture.

Yet when it comes to economic policy, some opponents of the Left's economic views—views which are, of course, very wrong—don't seem to understand the rules of the game. For example, a typical left-wing economic scheme might call for a higher minimum wage, declaring this policy to be a matter of simple decency, and by extension, the moral policy. In response to this, some defenders of laissez-faire and free markets often concentrate exclusively on bloodless clinical explanations of “efficiency” or “incentives” or demand curves. The element of moral righteousness is often omitted. 

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But given that most people want to do “the right thing,” the debate often ends with a sizable portion of the public concluding that they’ll side with doing the right thing, even if some arcane economic free market theory claims the right thing is “inefficient.”

This isn't to say that economic theory is not important or necessary. It is very important, and we need institutions—like the Mises Institute—to hold the line on good theory. But that by itself is not enough. It is also important to appeal to the moral and cultural currents within a society. Otherwise, good theory will not gain wide traction. 

Understanding Economics Is about Understanding Who Is Stealing from You

In the United States, the party of free markets during the nineteenth century—which happened to be the Democratic Party—understood this well.1 Politically, this liberal movement—what some call "classical liberalism"—was a force to be reckoned with and won many elections at all levels of government, because it convincingly made the claim that laissez-faire was the right thing to do. Moreover, to fight for free markets was the right thing to do, because to fight for laissez-faire meant to fight for the livelihood and well-being of one's community. Self-preservation required fighting the other side, which sought the destructive policies of high tariffs, inflationary currency, and special favors for politically powerful industries. The Democratic Party during the nineteenth century was well aware that politically connected financiers and imperialist politicians were more than happy to tax and regulate ordinary Americans into oblivion. Fighting them on the economic front was no mere intellectual exercise. 

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