Harvey Mansfield on economists

Kent Guida sent me this very interesting article; here are a few bits:

The economists I know are generally, as individuals, sober and
cautious, the most respectable of all professors and in their honesty
and reliability representing the best in bourgeois virtue. But when
they get together as economists, they give way to boyish irrational
exuberance over the accomplishments and prospects of economics as a

…Overconfidence in overcoming chance is the way of life recommended by
economists. It is the way of life known as progress by liberals and as
growth by conservatives, who are secretly united by overconfidence in
their knowledge of the future which they describe diversely and call by
different names.

…Now, the main consequence of living the over-confident life is to
believe that virtue is not necessary. Perhaps this is the main cause as
well as consequence of that life. Virtue is a chancy quality because
you may not have it or live up to it. It seems less reliable than
self-interest with its allies, fear and greed. Everybody has
self-interest, which is not true of virtue. But at least virtue does
not depend on predicting the future. On the contrary, virtue is a
resource for everyone when bad times come–something to fall back on,
to give cheer, to restore. On top of that, virtue will save you from
being corrupted by good fortune as well. This is the great truth taught
by the Stoics.


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