Dani Rodrik has painted himself into a corner

by on August 10, 2007 at 1:35 pm in Economics | Permalink

Dani Rodrik responds here to my pointed remarks on his argument for industrial policy.  Rodrik’s response, however, is along the same lines of his earlier – "I’m sophisticated, you’re simplistic" – post on why economists disagree.  In this case, it’s ‘libertarians are ideologues who are immune to evidence.’

Rodrik, however, has painted himself into a corner because he cannot at the same time say that the "systematic empirical evidence" for market imperfections in education, health, social insurance and Keynesian stabilization policy is "sketchy, to say the least"  (also "difficult to pin down" and ‘unsystematic’) and also claim that libertarians are ideologues who are immune to evidence. 

Say rather that libertarian economists are immune to sketchy, unsystematic, difficult to pin down evidence.  Rodrik is thus right that he is "not as unconventional as I sometimes think I am. The real revolutionaries here are the libertarians."  The libertarian economists are revolutionaries, however, not because they are immune to evidence but because they respect evidence so much that they are unwilling to accept "conventional wisdom" simply because it is conventional.   

I will have more to say on this at a later date but that is enough for now.

1 Dan August 10, 2007 at 2:01 pm

I’d say it’s unhelpful to generalize about which sorts of economists respect evidence more, as it presumably varies by the individual.

It is worth noting that libertarians and non-libertarians have different normative beliefs (specifically on the intrinsic value of free choice) that are each prone to color their respective interpretations of the evidence.

2 August August 10, 2007 at 2:18 pm


I was sorely tempted to argue with Dani, but when I caught myself looking up the nomenclature I figured he would either catch me in an amateur error or claim I was simplistic.
So instead I finally stopped reading him.
It is pretty simple. If you keep reaching for state power as part of your “sophisticated” answer, then even an amateur will notice there is something wrong.

3 Daniel Klein August 10, 2007 at 2:41 pm

Nice post!

Rodrik writes:

“I look at the world and see some government programs that work and others that fail.”

What government interventions has Rodrik called failures?

Has Rodrik ever called for significant liberalization in the US?

Social democrats rarely do, because admitting that longstanding status quo policies are failures embarrasses the faith that democracy works.

Has Rodrik ever acknowledged terrible, long-standing error in status quo US policy?

4 jacob August 10, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Arent we the only industrialized nation that is trying to become MORE socialized, seems everyone that got there before us didnt like the view……..

5 Tom August 10, 2007 at 3:59 pm

You should not engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

6 Alex Tabarrok August 10, 2007 at 4:36 pm

nli – ha, you got me. Corrected.

7 indiana jim August 10, 2007 at 4:50 pm


You may have been overly kind in your characterization of Rodrik’s comments. A person who paints himself into a corner has made a mistake sure, but he HAS demonstrated sufficient intellect to have opened a can of paint used a brush.

8 hmmm August 10, 2007 at 6:08 pm

tyler seems to be partially painted into this corner too (http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2007/08/irreconcilable-.html#comments). how respondeth ye rabid libertarians?

9 Swimmy August 10, 2007 at 8:34 pm

He seems to have missed the point entirely. How can he fully recognize the public choice dilemma in his policy advice, brush it aside, then call anyone who reminds him of it an ideologue?

10 K. August 10, 2007 at 11:21 pm

The problem is that Rodrik has been spewing vitriol, and we’re calling him on it. We’re not arguing against him; we’re expressing our disappointment.

11 John August 11, 2007 at 1:42 am

Free Exchange had, by far, the best take on this dispute.

12 Russell Nelson August 11, 2007 at 3:19 am

It’s not that markets do not work. It’s that markets do not work perfectly — and yet no adult proponent of markets believes that they do. My belief is simply that freedom is better than coercion. If you don’t believe that too, then I’d be happy to coerce you into sharing my belief (since of course you must agree that coercion is better than freedom — and that coercing you is better than leaving you to believe that coercion is better than freedom.)

13 happyjuggler0 August 11, 2007 at 11:47 am

Damn. the reason government grows and does the stupid things it does is not because of bad incentives

should read

the reason government grows and does the stupid things it does is not because the general public desires it, but because of bad incentives

14 happyjuggler0 August 11, 2007 at 1:51 pm


Sorry, I should use the preview button more often, especially when I use html tags.

I have a question though. I am not an expert by any means, so I don’t know what is going on with html a lot of the time. I have observed that when someone doesn’t close a tag, and the rest of the thread winds up in italics, how does someone close the tag? For example, your post is in normal type.

15 TGGP August 12, 2007 at 12:44 am

happyjuggler0, just to be on the safe side I use overkill. Here is what I wrote:

[/i][/i]You left the italics tags on[/i][/i].

Replace [ and ] with < and >, respectively.

16 翻译公司 February 13, 2008 at 7:31 am
17 aion kina March 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

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