Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

A public agenda in troubled times: The Becker-Posner blog during the Financial Crisis 2008

Luchtmann Morten, University of Lorraine

Gary Becker and Richard Posner are well-known for formulating unifying methodologic frameworks in their respective subdisciplines, applied economics and law and economics. Their framework of individual decision making, often called rational choice economics, has been recognized by its adherents, as well as by its opponents as a prevailing modelling norm in economics. As a norm, rational choice economics represents a certain perspective on policies and their analysis. One place where this is vividly visible is on their blog, the Becker-Posner blog (BP blog). But, not only is this a place of dissemination for Becker and Posner. It is also a place where one can observe what Posner describes as a "hit on the solar plexus" of "free-market economists". The BP blog consists of policy analyses, but also of brute vulgarisations of principles or a style of analysis. As a historic document it stretches over a period of eleven years from 2004 to 2014 capturing decisive moments of the very young 21th century, such as the financial crisis 2008 or the reform of the US healthcare system 2010. Jean-Baptiste Fleury and Alain Marciano have already given a general description of the blog and of the role of Becker and Posner as public intellectuals (Fleury, Marciano 2013). This essay takes a closer look on the public positions of Becker and Posner and tries to describe how they have been evolving during these years. Methodologically, I use a text as data approach to very roughly quantify some dimensions of the blogs content. With the help of topic-modelling I try to get a better grasp of the blog as a corpus of texts that stretches over a decade. (The blog consists of a little more than 1000 entries). I try to capture the effect of the financial crisis on the public positions of Becker and Posner by representing graphically the different topics of the blog over time. The results might be of interest beyond the particular agenda of these two conservative public intellectuals. Assuming that the financial crisis 2008 was a big shock for the economics profession more generally, the Becker-Posner blog might be seen as a case study of public intellectualship in troubled times. A closer look on Becker’s and Posner’s positions also reveals that their positions deviate on a number of issues such as regulation of caloric intake or the individual value of university education.


Keywords: Becker, Gary S., Posner, Richard A., public intellectual, financial crisis, topic modelling

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