News

Annual Report Finds Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Remains Largely White, Male

News

Harvard Square Celebrates Oktoberfest

News

Harvard Corporation Members Donated Big to Democrats in 2020 Elections

News

City Council Candidates Propose Strategies for Supporting Low-Income Residents at Virtual Forum

News

FAS Dean Gay Hopes to Update Affiliates on Ethnic Studies Search by Semester’s End

The Mail WESTERN ECONOMISTS

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

In a recent letter (CRIMSON, Monday, October 29). Professors Bowles and MacEwan join in the attack on the Center for International Affairs that your paper has done so much to make fashionable. They also embark on a related critique of "Western economists." Professors Bowie. Vernon and others at the Center are able I am sure, to defend themselves against. Bowles and MacEwan. Comment by one not associated with the Center may be in order, though, on some of their strictures on "Western economists."

To begin with, such persons take the "maximization of per capita income" as the "primary objective of poor countries, even though this implies "an acceptance of the status quo on income distribution." There are, of course, Western economists and Western economists, but Bowles and MacEwan are obviously right that in Western treatment of economic development attention has focused much more on per capital income growth than on income equality. Very possibly, too, a greater concern for equity would often be to the good. This might be so not only in terms of the economists' more ultimate goal of "social welfare," but even from the standpoint of avoiding the revolutions that Bowles and MacEwan seem eager to promote.

Bowles and MacEwan tell us also, however, that per capita income "only has meaning in the context of a market economy." Defective as data on per capita income must be for a less developed economy. Bowles and MacEwan cannot really be urging here what they seem to be: that that index not be compiled and its increase not be sought. Moreover, as the primers teach, if income equality is stressed very much, incentives and bence output per capita may suffer. Just what is the trade off and where should a balance be struck between these two desiderata? These regrettably are thorny questions on which excited polemics are not very helpful. Without being any less concerned than Bowles and MacEwan with the wellbeing of the people, even the poor people, of less developed countries, one might still differ with them on income distribution.

Bowles and MacEwan also tell us that the "human costs of rapid economic growth... the fracture of a community, for example-are seldom considered." Few Western economists need to be told of the "human costs of rapid economic growth," though more familiar examples are urban congestion and pollution, and many will join in regretting that such costs are not given more weight in actual development programs.

We are also informed that in the upshot "development policy is consistently biased... against revolution as a means." Among the principal revolutions of current interest are those of a communist sort, and Western economists no doubt do tend to be unenthusiastic about such revolutions.

According to Webster's. however, a "bias" is a "prejudice," and if Bowles and MacEwan mean anything by their allegation it must be that the Western economist is not only predisposed against communist revolutions, but that the predisposition is indefensible. It should be observed, therefore, that such a predisposition might stem, among other things, from an awareness that communist societies too are, by all accounts, not especially attentive to "human costs of rapid growth" such as described. The predisposition might also reflect a concern for other "human costs" as well, human costs represented by, for example, the incarceration of millions of persons in penal labor camps in the USSR under the five year plans, and by similar experiences in other communist countries; human costs about which former inmates (Solzhenitsen, Ginzburg, Lobl) have told us vividly enough, if we only wish to know of them: human costs, too, such as those evidenced by the continued harsh suppression of free speech and press in the USSR over a half century after the Revolution and in other communist countries almost without exception.

Prisons, torture, suppression of free speech and press are unhappily not unknown in non-communist countries either, and some thinking people still contend that Stalin was better than Hitler, though as more becomes known about Stalin the difference seems to become less and less clear. It may be hoped, however, that Bowles and MacEwan will themselves supply the "thorough elaboration" of their views that they allude to at the close of their letter, and in doing so will explain just how they have arrived at their own presumably unbiased view of communist revolution. Particularly, what weight do they give to the actual historical experience with that system as distinct from free utopian invention? Perhaps they will explain too, for the question is inevitable, whether and how under communism economists could hope to escape the sad metamorphosis that they are assertedly experiencing in the West into "technicians" with a "stunted vision... of the good."

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags