OXFORD, England—The morning after my Feb. 20 debate at the Oxford Union, I walked from my hotel along Oxford’s narrow cobblestone streets, past its storied colleges with resplendent lawns and Gothic stone spires, to meet Avner Offer, an economic historian and Chichele Professor Emeritus of Economic History.
Offer, the author of “The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950,”
for 25 years has explored the cavernous gap between our economic and
social reality and our ruling economic ideology. Neoclassical economics,
he says, is a “just-world theory,” one that posits that not only do
good people get what they deserve but those who suffer deserve to
suffer. He says this model is “a warrant for inflicting pain.” If we
continue down a path of mounting scarcities, along with economic
stagnation or decline, this neoclassical model is ominous. It could be
used to justify repression in an effort to sustain a vision that does
not correspond to the real world.