This weekend, Duke University hosted the annual conference of the journal History of Political Economy. This year’s topic was “The Economist as Public Intellectual,” and papers explored how economists become influential in policy and public debates, how they navigate the public sphere, and how influence or are influenced by various media formats. For those interested, selected papers will appear in the annual supplement to History of Political Economy.
The topic is fascinating and extremely important. However, here I only want to share one quote from 20th century public intellectual Walter Lippman. As an undergraduate at Harvard, Lippman took some courses in mainstream economics but was largely unimpressed: he did not see usefulness in such models of economic behavior. One aspect that he reacted to was the assumption, still largely used today, that economic analysis takes preferences as exogenous and given. Lippman found this assumption bewildering, writing that “Advertising is in fact the weed that had grown up because the art of consumption is uncultivated.”
I had not previous considered consumption as an art, but this might be a good way to think about it to make sense of the “mindless consumption” that some modern commentators make on our consumption-driven society.