Economists and Democracy

CAMBRIDGE – I have been presenting my new book The Globalization Paradox to different groups of late. By now I am used to all types of comments from the audience. But at a recent book-launch event, the economist assigned to discuss the book surprised me with an unexpected criticism. “Rodrik wants to make the world safe for politicians,” he huffed.

Lest the message be lost, he then illustrated his point by reminding the audience of “the former Japanese minister of agriculture who argued that Japan could not import beef because human intestines are longer in Japan than in other countries.”

The comment drew a few chuckles. Who doesn’t enjoy a joke at the expense of politicians?

But the remark had a more serious purpose and was evidently intended to expose a fundamental flaw in my argument. My discussant found it self-evident that allowing politicians greater room for maneuver was a cockamamie idea – and he assumed that the audience would concur. Remove constraints on what politicians can do, he implied, and all you will get are silly interventions that throttle markets and stall the engine of economic growth.