I think sometimes, as a society, we’ve been trained to look at our collective problems through a hole the size of a hole.
I look at the cost of health care, relative to our poor outcomes – of the 11 high-income countries, the US health care system ranks last in terms of performance, even though we spend more – and I know there must be a better way to keep Our country is in good health.
I look at my $1.7 trillion student loan debt and I think there must be a way to get back to the status quo of my time in college, when four years of study at the University of Illinois cost less than $10,000.
I look at the fact that the Child Tax Credit, which was enacted during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and lifted millions of children out of poverty, has now been rescinded due to discussions about efficiency and who is “worth” helping, and I wonder why it’s so hard to do the right thing for people who need to. help.
Thanks to Elizabeth Bob Berman, professor of organizational studies at the University of Michigan, and author of the new book, Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Has Replaced Equality in American Public Policy, I better understand why these things are so difficult. Berman argues that our most powerful institutions have been immersed in what she calls “economic thinking,” and this lens has closed off a broader debate about how to think about these societal challenges.
The “economic thinking style” is not just about using the tools of a particular discipline to examine a problem, but rather a whole world view rooted primarily in the assessment of “competency” above all else. Those who espouse the economic method believe that efficiency is a neutral trait, a measuring stick not unlike a ruler, but Berman argues that efficiency is in itself a value, often in conflict with the actual desires of citizens.
For example, many believe that everyone has a fundamental right to health care, an ethical claim that does not call for “efficiency.” However, when the economic pattern is applied to the management of a health care system, the ethical claim is skewed aside in favor of competition and markets. Those who adopt the economic model have an unshakable belief that these mechanisms create the best outcomes for most people.
But this is clearly not true. With the growing influence of the economic style since the 1960s, perhaps peaking in the 1990s and remaining dominant today, we have seen rising inequality in the United States.
The economic pattern is bipartisan in the sense that both Republicans and centrist Democrats embrace it wholeheartedly, although we also see it often abandoned by Republicans (and some Democrats) when it comes to things like defense spending, where markets and efficiency don’t seem to come into play.
Or tax cuts for the wealthy, which will forever remain in the Republican playbook.
Some voices wanting to consider issues of justice and ethics as we examine policy on things like inequality, antitrust issues, and the environment are starting to make some noise, but the economic pattern remains dominant. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, took the last chance to come up with legislation that would retain some kind of child tax credit due to concerns about “cost.” Classical economic thinking style.
Berman makes no public policy recommendations, but the significance of her book is clear to me.
It’s okay to think that there is value beyond markets and competition, and while efficiency can be a useful goal in many cases, sometimes we must embrace deeper values around fairness, and I dare say it, right and wrong.
John Warner is the author of Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five Paragraph Essay and Other Essentials.
Book recommendations from Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read
1. “The Lady in the Lake” by Raymond Chandler
2. “Farewell, my love” by Raymond Chandler
3. “Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler
4. “Maltese Falcon” By Dashiell Hammett
5. “Blood Harvest” By Dashiell Hammett
– Mark F. Chicago
Mark points out that these are all re-reading over and over again. I’m going to give him a chance to give him a contemporary writer working on the same hard-boiled detective path he might not be aware of, Charlie Houston, with the first book in the Henry Thompson series, “Caught Stealing.”
1. “Vampires at Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell
2. “The Missing and Most Wanted” by Neil Freudenberger
3. “Books and Lovers” by Lily King
4. “Circe” by Madeline Miller
5. “It’s up to us” by Colin Hoover
– Lisa B, Glenview
I just finished reading Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espech and thought it was a cool, kind of book that makes you don’t want to start another book for a few days so you can enjoy the experience. I think it will hit Lisa’s house.
1. “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr
2. “Virgins” by Alex Michaelides
3. “How to slowly kill yourself and others in America” by Kizzy Lemon
4. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tart
5. “Everything I Didn’t Tell You” by Celeste Ng
– Mandy T. , New York City
This is kind of challenging, with a good selection of themes and genres. I need a good story that gives Mandy something to plant her teeth in, and maybe also has a unique storytelling voice that draws you in. I’m going with “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty.