In my daily trek of researching the news, a friend posted up a piece by Forbes contributor Alex Berezow over Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant in a Seattle City Council election and her credentials as a teacher of economics. I can assure you my friend found the piece humorous and so did I.
But I am curious, why is Alex Berezow, a person listed to write on “science, science policy, and a dash of European affairs,” allowed to write on a subject he did little to no research about? In fact, has he read anything aside from Gregory Mankiw?
Perhaps an analysis of his post can allow us understanding of why an individual can write over economics with such terrible insight.
Berezow is right to state economics is not a science usually considered “traditionally,” though that is the only part where he is right. He moves on to say:
Still, economics can provide powerful insights on market behavior. Indeed, economists from various ideological backgrounds have managed to reach a consensus on several major issues, and from that vantage point, we can say the field has developed something resembling scientific knowledge.
Economics has not reached consensus on major issues since there many schools of thought. Additionally, the issue of terrible reporting on economics has been talked on by economist Dean Baker, for instance, and the issue of problems within the economic paradigm as it works within a neoclassical model. That is why books like The Economics Anti-Textbook by economists Rod Hills and Tonny Myatt exist, to counter-act such thoughts bias in the field and rejection of alternative theories.
Yet, as I read the entire piece, it starts with the age-old idea of incentive for people to work:
One of those insights is that people respond to incentives. If I offer a teenager $50 to mow my lawn — and an extra $25 if he trims the bushes — then I can expect to shell out $75. I just offered my little helper a handsome incentive, and there’s a very good chance he’ll respond to it.
Here I admit defeat as my socialist convictions cannot respond to such logic of paying a teenager $75 to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. I thought capitalism was exploiting others, but it seems this teenager (whoever it is) is a genius who is taking an easy $75 to do errands for Alex Berezow who is too busy writing on things he knows nothing about.
He mentions how socialists, like me, never admit to the idea of incentive in our framework despite our work proving him wrong. But the best part of the entire post is found within one line:
Yet, shockingly, socialists can regularly be found on college campuses.
Yes, we’re here on campuses preparing events to teach the public on special causes. We can be found in your cafeteria, your classrooms, your libraries, your buses, your trains, your lanes and even your sidewalks (yes we can walk). Perhaps most shocking of all, we’re human beings that can critically think and engage with other people while hoping for a change in the future.
He then proceeds to call out Sawant by saying she “openly endorses socialism” and might win her Seattle City Council race as she currently has 49.5 percent of the vote.
Two years ago, it was found by Pew Research Center those aged 18 to 29 view “socialism” favorably at 49 percent to 43 percent. It’s not a dirty word anymore.
Berezow flat-out deceives the reader to fit into his agenda of what is right and wrong. For instance, he criticizes Sawant for her support of rent control by stating:
If Dr. Sawant’s embrace of socialism isn’t bad enough, she also endorses a terribly destructive policy called “rent control.” This policy can take various forms, but basically, landlords are not allowed to charge market rates for apartments. That might sound like a nice thing if you’re a renter, but Dr. Mankiw — citing a 1992 paper in American Economic Review — states that 93% of economists reject rent control because it “reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”
One major problem with this argument is the lack of a definition with rent control. Yes, the statistic of 93 percent of economists rejecting rent control is all fine, but what specific rent control are we speaking about? Here is the question he either refuses to answer or does not know much about.
In the Economics Anti-Textbook by Rod Hills and Tonny Myatt, they do talk about the neoclassical idea of rent control, but give an alternative view as well. They write:
But knowing the extent to which the ceiling rent is binding over time is very tricky. It’s complicated by the fact that we cannot observe the equilibrium rent. A second complication is that the type of rent control prevalent nowadays is very different from the type assumed in textbooks — a rigid rent freeze.
What Berezow is saying is that “first-generation rent control” is rejected by many economists. For those unaware, it is, as stated above, “a rigid rent freeze.” However, “second-generation” rent control is more flexible as it can allow “automatic rent increases geared to increasing costs, excludes luxury high-rent buildings and new buildings, restricts conversions, decontrols between tenants, and provides incentives for landlords to maintain or improve quality.”
In the same manner my introduction to microeconomics textbook (coincidentally written by Gregory Mankiw) failed to address this, so does Berezow fail to distinguish to difference between the two.
But the biggest problem is thinking that housing units aren’t assets, when, in reality, they are. Again, the two economists state there are more factors such as “interest rates, inflation, profit opportunities elsewhere, the local real estate cycle, government housing and tax policies, and current and expected future changes in all relevant variables.”
Nowhere, in a business site named Forbes, is the discussion of any of these factors raised. Rather, a reporter with time on his hands decided to write an article on a subject he did not research thoroughly.
Richard Arnott, economist at the University of California — Riverside, spoke on the impact of such factors. He wrote, in “Time for Revisionism in Rent Control?“:
[T]he “impact of these other factor is likely to be significantly greater than any effect due to controls. Trying to discern the effects of rent control in such a situation is akin to trying to hear a whispered conversation across a street of roaring traffic.”
He further writes in the report that the reason for hostility in rent control is due to two reasons. First, it is an ideological battle on believers of the free market and those who reject it. Secondly, it is a methodological battle on whether the models are as close to the real-world.
Here’s a question for Berezow (taken from Rod Hills and Tonny Myatt): Would rent controls necessarily cause shortages if the rental housing were only imperfectly competitive? I’ll let that one sink in your mind until you get the answer. (Answer: It won’t)
It seems to be Berezow is writing an irrelevant and mistake-filled column that must be an attack against a socialist candidate who is changing discussion in a country where Occupy Wall Street occurred. For instance, two paragraphs before the rent control debacle is full of vicious non sequiturs on Sawant:
How on earth can somebody who rejects basic academic knowledge be so close to winning a city council seat? Even more troublingly, how can somebody with her beliefs be allowed to teach an economics course? This would be analogous to allowing an AIDS denier to teach a medical microbiology course, a 9/11 truther to teach a foreign policy course, or a creationist to teach an evolution course.
When someone has an opposing view in economics, they are not an AIDS denier or a 9/11 truther. Should I criticize behavioral economists for working within the capitalist mainframe and call them xenophobes for not talking about other cultures that have done well without free markets? It is a ridiculous statement and merits whether Alex Berezow should be trusted as a person in any of his writings (just to be clear I have great respect for behavioral economics, but I digress).
His last paragraph shows my criticisms with his post:
I have two questions to which I will never expect to receive a rational answer. First, why would Seattle Central Community College allow Dr. Sawant (yes, she actually has a Ph.D. in economics) anywhere near students? And second, to the citizens of Seattle, how does one of the most educated cities in America allow themselves to get duped?
Did you catch the childish attack (“yes, she actually has a Ph.D. in economics”) on Dr. Sawant? Might I ask why Berezow has a job as a journalist in the first place? Is he editorializing to an extent where it loses value as an opinion piece and more of a child whose pre-frontal cortex hasn’t fully grown and, thus, understands nothing on the meaning of debate?
She is near students because she, well, was hired to do that, if you want a rational answer. There are many Marxist economists who taught “near students” and they are respected, like economist Richard Wolff (whose books on economics are fair, smart and educational).
Also, Seattle citizens felt frustrated or preferred the alternative to Democrat Richard Conlin. Is this so hard to understand for a close-minded individual like Berezow?
This post reminds me of a quote by comedian Bill Hicks who understood those that are suspicious and deserve none of our trust:
I don’t know what you all believe, and I don’t really care but you have to admit that beliefs are odd.
By next week, I won’t care who this random individual Alex Berezow is nor do I care what he believes. But this goes beyond the idea of odd, it is sheer lunacy to trust a person with no knowledge of economics.
Alex Berezow is an angry individual whose use of ad-hominem attacks further discredit his reliability as a journalist and an informed individual.
Yesterday, Jason Byrne posted on his website a Twitter debate between him and Berezow over the credibility of the article and whether Berezow understood what socialism was in the first place. It descended into madness as Berezow refused to acknowledge his error and personally attacked the integrity of other individuals. For instance, in response to journalist Joshua Alvarez’s rebuttal to his article, he told Alvarez:
I suppose you support creationists teaching evolution and AIDS deniers teaching medical microbiology, too?
Once again, he ends up as a person who features non-sequiturs in his responses to people, which further discredits his integrity as a journalist. When both Alvarez and Byrne pointed out it was an incorrect response and a “false equivalency,” he responded:
“False equivalence” is the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt.
Ever remember those studies that stated how even if presented with fact, we would reject it? Comically, a scientist with a Ph.D. named Alex Berezow refuses to acknowledge fact even when he is shown wrong.
The debate continues and it is an entertaining read, yet it clearly shows how suspicious he is as a person and the agenda he wishes to carry out.
The most comical part is when Berezow states, in response to what Byrne wrote:
It went far beyond criticism when he mocked my Ph.D. and my teaching job. That was the final straw. I told him to stop.
There is no doubt he is egocentric when he makes a statement as mentioned. When he criticizes Sawant for her Ph.D. and her teaching ability, he is right. When someone questions his validity in his story, his is immediately offended and hurt by such words
There is a level of irony lost upon Berezow as he comes down harder than the iron fist of Joseph Stalin.