By James Kwak
I disagree with Richard Posner—the old Richard Posner behind the law and economics movement—on so many things that I always worry when he seems to agree with me. Did I do write something stupid? I wonder.
A friend forwarded me Posner’s latest blog post, “Luck, Wealth, and Implications for Policy,” parts of which sound vaguely like a post I wrote three years ago, “Do Smart, Hard-Working People Deserve To Make More Money?“* In that post, I argued that even if differences in incomes are due to things that people ordinarily think of as “merit,” like intelligence and hard work, that doesn’t mean that rich people have a moral entitlement to their wealth, because they didn’t do anything to deserve their intelligence or their propensity to work hard. In summary, “I have little patience for the idea that rich people deserve what they have because they worked for it. It’s just a question of how far back you are willing to acknowledge that chance enters the equation.”
Richard Posner is against the proposed new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). This is, of course, not a surprise. Posner has always been an articulate advocate of the view most often associated with economics at the University of Chicago: market-based outcomes are invariably better than the alternatives, and anything that interferes with consumer choice is a bad idea.
Posner wraps this opposition to the CFPA into an odd attack (near the end of his WSJ op ed) on the personal decision-making abilities of Richard Thaler – a leading economist on consumer choice, misperceptions, and mistakes. (More on Thaler here.)
Thaler, also of the University of Chicago, hit back hard yesterday. He is right that Posner mischaracterizes the CFPA proposal, and points out that his agenda – and that of Cass Sunstein, formerly of Chicago and now a czar in the adminstration – is simply to provide consumers with a framework for better decisions. He implies that Posner defends defective baby cribs and their equivalent.
I would go further. Continue reading