In the vein of Richard Posner, Thomas Sowell can be a arch-conservative whackjob, but he can also be quite insightful. One of my favorites is his thoughts on the “Animistic Fallacy”:
The simplest and most psychologically satisfying explanation of any observed phenomenon is that it happened that way because someone wanted it to happen that way.
What the animistic fallacy yields is the invention of “villians” and “heroes” to explain large-scale phenenema: If it happened, someone or something powerful must have willed it to be.
Generally you hear about the villians more. From gas prices (greedy oil CEOs) the housing bubble (speculators?) campaign idiocy (it’s the media!) . Or here in Latin America Argentines blame fallow soy fields on Bush (US soy demand leads to poor crop rotations). Of course, the world simply doesn’t concentrate power in a way that individuals can perpetrate large-scale phenomena.
The real power of economics is that it provides an alternative to the animistic fallacy. And this is why it should be taught to everyone (e.g. a high school requirement, not a college elective)
Economics teaches an inevitability of large-scale phenomena. Things happen, bad and good. And it’s not always because someone wanted it to be that way. It’s a democratic conspiracy — the sum of the small individual choices we all make day-to-day in pursuit of our individual best interest. And the writing is already on the wall long before the event.
The animistic fallacy gives hope to those that try to turn back the effects of inevitable large-scale phenomena. Globalization, shifting comparative advantage, commodity prices. The fallacy is this: Someone is making it happen and someone can stop it! Unfortunately for those adversely affected, this is simply not true.
As Sam often points out, economists turn a blind eye to the disadvantages of a more globalized world. I agree with him completely, but to me it’s a moot point. It’s happening and there’s nothing any one entity can do about it. The only question in my mind is how we should react.