The Idea of - and the Ideas In - Talk

Originally published in Man and the Economy

The very idea is astonishing - the idea being that ideas have no significant effect on the course of economies or economic policies. The idea that the causes of the wealth of nations lie exclusively in material conditions (such as machines and manpower and magnesium deposits and money supplies and mortality rates), or in institutions that work as uncaused causes, is so bizarre that one wonders how anyone ever got such an idea. Yet this idea is widely shared. It is widely shared, at least, among the idea people whom I know best: economists.

With her magnificent Bourgeois trilogy, McCloskey (2006, 2010, 2016) joins Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Joel Mokyr, and a handful of other renegade modern economists to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the idea that ideas are impotent is a bad idea. A very bad idea. But why does this very bad idea persist?