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Noah Smith

Liberals Compete for the Soul of Economics

One branch wants to modify the economic thinking of the past few decades. The other wants to rip it up.
A fair fight.
Source: Hulton-Deutsch/corbis/getty images

In 2015, Forbes writer Adam Ozimek suggested that a “new liberal consensus” is forming in the economic-policy world. The data back him up. Many economics professors now tend to favor government intervention in the economy more than the general public. And the profession’s biggest public stars, from Paul Krugman to Thomas Piketty to Joseph Stiglitz, are now more likely to lean to the left than to the right. Meanwhile, I’ve tried to document the flood of new research showing that policies like public housing, welfare and public education spending are more beneficial than conservatives have recognized in decades past.

But there are not one, but two big trends in liberal economic thinking. One wants to modify the economic thinking of the past few decades, and the other wants to rip it up. I expect to see a lot of the economic debate in the coming years play out not between the left and right, but between these two strains of thought.