By Paolo von Schirach
February 3, 2012
WASHINGTON – Famed Harvard economist and co-author, with Carmen Reinhart, of “This Time is Different“, a major work on financial crises, writes that America needs voters who understand economic policy. In his The Financial Times contribution, (Our ignorance will yield more crises in capitalism, February 2, 2012), to the ongoing debate on “Capitalism in Crisis“, Rogoff argues that, while no serious thinker or policy maker seriously doubts the superiority of private sector led capitalism, politicians muddy the waters when it comes to framing the most sensible public policies that will further the healthy advancement of democratic capitalism.
Politicians make impossible promises counting on voters’ ignorance
Politicians have purposely polluted the public policy debate by routinely making preposterous political promises that make no economic sense. And yet they get away with it, because the (uneducated) public tends to embrace what looks superficially good. And so politicians who want votes make incredible promises, hoping that the people will be swayed. And they are often right. But the politicians get away with outlandish populist promises because the people are only superficially informed, and therefore more gullible, says Rogoff.
And here is his revolutionary idea: create real opportunities for adult education in economics and public finance. The implicitly accepted (and cynical) idea whereby “The People” do not want to be bothered with complex public policy issues, and are quite happy to be ignorant or just superficially informed is just not true, argues Rogoff.
People want to learn about economics
Give people a chance, offer them an opportunity to learn through modalities that make sense and they will take advantage of them. No, people do not want to be ignorant. They want to understand. At least understand enough so that they can make an informed judgement on what is offered to them at election time, and by people in office, after the elections.
I support the idea. This endeavor may be ambitious, and a bit complicated. But it is certainly not impossible. I am not sure as to where one should start, but it is a very good plan that should not be tossed away as “nice thought, but impractical“.
America needs informed citizens
Look, many of the Founders said several times that a vibrant Republic should rest on a solid base of educated citizens. Providing avenues to further adult economics education is a good start, and a good way to strengthen America.