From Taciturn to Talkative Political Economy

Deirdre McCloskey challenges economists to take talk seriously. Public choice economics, like most economics, typically assigns only a small role to various forms of talk between individuals. By contrast, throughout Richard Wagner’s oeuvre, there is an undercurrent of talk about talk. This essay argues that talk matters because of two keep assumptions in Wagner’s approach to public choice. First, talk matters to the extent that individuals are ignorant. There are different forms of ignorance in economic theory which allow talk to communicate different sorts of information. Knightian uncertainty, however, also opens up the possibility that talk can do more. Second, talk matters when individuals have tuistic motivations. When individuals are moved to act based on the actions and judgments of others, talk becomes motivating as well as informative. I illustrate the power of talk in Wagner’s approach by examining the classic arguments put forward in Democracy in Deficit.

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