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Economists fail as evangelists on Sunset Blvd.

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Feb• 19•06

In the “Capitalism: The Movieâ€? in the March 2006 Atlantic Monthly, writer Clive Cook examines why many of Hollywood’s recent releases have been anti-capitalist.  Hollywood simply assumes that the public will run to see free-market bashing movies such as: Syriana, Fun with Dick and Jane, Wall Street, Erin Brockovich, The Insider, etc. Why?

Cook claims that most of the general public is pro-capitalist, but with reservations.  Conventional wisdom is that capitalism is a cruel system which is prey to excesses, but the ‘least bad’ alternative to any other system.  Cook blames two parties for not spreading the gospel of a free-market society.  The first group is corporate leaders who espouse competition in their speeches, but gladly accept subsidies, tax breaks, and import protection from the government.  The second group is economists.  Cook states:

“It is difficult to see where any heightened appreciation of the market system is going to come from.  Economists, presumably, ought to be supplying it.  Unfortunately in most cases, communicating a sense of wonder is not among their gifts.  In some ways, teachers of economics are probably making matters worse.  As practiced in universities, economics continues to turn inward, with ever more emphasis on math, quantitative methods, and narrow specialization.  You can make a case for that, but it silences the discipline on the thing that matters most.  Also, people are suspicious of economists: they see them as agents of a suspicious doctrine.  And it so happens that a variety of studies have shown, notoriously, that training in economics inclines people to be more “rational”–that is, more selfish and less inclined to cooperate.  This does not commend economics to the rest of us.â€?   

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