Another Free-Market Straw Man

I get so tired of reading these pointless free-market commentaries that do nothing but state the obvious and grind the axe.

Today's find: William Easterly's Financial Times article, "Trust the development experts – all 7bn of them."

Easterly ridicules a recent (rather impressive, though judicious and occasionally mealy-mouthed) World Bank report on development, arguing that we should "give up on the experts," trusting in the hallowed free market to solve all development problems.

Roberto Zagha responds well and at length, concluding that "much of Easterly’s critique is directed to self-constructed claims and assertions rather than drawn from the report."

His response could be condensed, however, into two words:

Straw man.

Mr. Easterly admits to as much in his own response:

Economists give great guidance on everything from trading systems to
macroeconomic stabilization to auction design to financial regulation.
Keynes in a famous quote said it would be splendid if economists were
thought to be as competent as dentists. I think we are getting close to
Keynes’ ambition, and all of the things I just cited where we can be
good dentists will contribute to economic development. Let’s just not make the enormous leap to the absurd and counterproductive presumption that we dentist-economists can come up with an expert plan that will
achieve rapid growth for a whole society out of poverty into prosperity.

Nobody has suggested such an absurd leap. The judicious, understated tone of World Bank report–the very thing that Mr. Easterly ridicules–embodies the very opposite of such a position. It's hard to overstate  the astounding irony of his argument.

Mr. Easterly was, however, quite clear in making the equally absurd claim–frantic backpeddling in his response nothwithstanding–that experts should be ignored, and that we should rely instead only upon the invisible hand(s) of 7 billion people.

In short, the World Bank report tells us quite a lot about what we can do to promote development. Mr. Easterly's commentary tells us nothing beyond the trivially obvious truth that everybody already knows and agrees upon: the market is a (the most) powerful force for development.

As my 15-year-old daughter would say, "No duh."