The Economics of Blyth

January 7th, 2014

While initially skeptical, I enjoyed the article on Professor of Political Science Mark Blyth (“Capitalism with Airbags,” November/December). Blyth makes a cogent argument for government support and intervention in a flagging economy.

However, he and author Beth Schwartzapfel ’01 overlook the dark underside of the welfare state, the intergenerational reliance of welfare families. While Blyth is an example of success, there are infinitely more examples of generational welfare support. Across America, parents teach children how to “get a check” and avoid becoming a contributing member of society. This issue is compounded when welfare programs generate more net income than a starting teacher’s salary in New York City.

Blyth and the author also never address the perpetual state of government programs. I believe this is at the heart of our fiscal malaise. Our federal government creates programs to assist citizens, then when that need is met, the program morphs into something else in order to continue its funding and existence. Or worse, it morphs and demands more funding because it fails to meet its stated objectives. The bureaucracy grows primarily to perpetuate itself. Government programs never end; they just grow and demand more tax dollars regardless of how ineffective they may be.

Jonathan Bastian ’89
Lexington, Ky.


Despite the attempt to depict him as an unusual character, it’s not at all a surprise that Mark Blyth has the “confidence,” “potty mouth,” barely-concealed “anger,” and blank-faced “rat-a-tat delivery” that the author describes, nor that he was once such a cool dude he played bass in a rock band.  

He’s a classic left-wing hothead who doesn’t know economics nearly as well as he knows what sort of political diatribes sell. I give Schwartzapfel credit for at least bringing in the voices of those unfairly criticized by Blyth long enough for them to note that “austerity” is an amorphous term Blyth uses to condemn whatever policies he doesn’t like (namely, property rights and free markets).  

One could go further and note that nothing resembling “austerity” in the sense of reduced government spending has occurred in either the United States or Europe, despite feeble belt-tightening rhetoric, so if things are going badly (and they are), it can hardly be due to some imaginary upsurge in laissez-faire. But then, it’s also not true that the past three decades of “free market” rhetoric saw government budget cuts or any substantial regulation either, so Blyth’s entire economic story is a fantasy. 

Todd Seavey ’91
New York City

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Related Issue
January/February 2014