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Are Economy Experts Less Likely to Give to Charity?
An economic knowledge base makes people smarter about how they use their resources—which benefits everyone, even if those resources don’t go into a donation box.

My most recent Forbes piece explains how to use the economic way of thinking to ruin Christmas. In this light, I found Steven Landsburg’s take on Yoram Bauman’s claim in the New York Times that economics increases Grinchiness especially interesting. I haven’t read Bauman’s underlying paper, but in his NYT summary he points out that economics majors are less likely to give money to two activist groups (they were given the option during registration for classes).

Willingness to donate to left-of-center advocacy organizations is hardly a robust test of the treatment effect of economics on public-spiritedness for a couple of reasons. To continue some of Landsburg’s examples, it shouldn’t be surprising that economics education reduces a student’s faith in government action in much the same way that med school would reduce a student’s faith in the power of healing crystals. Yes, there are difficult cases to be made for markets, but jumping from those cases (public goods, externalities, incomplete information, etc.) to “we need government intervention to fix it” is a mistake because it doesn’t carry the economic analysis far enough. Sadly, Bauman’s op-ed contributes to the popular view of economics that comes from Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in Wall Street. For a useful corrective, here’s Michael Munger in last week’s EconTalk.

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Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford University’s Brock School of Business.