Academic journals are not the place to repeat long-ago-discovered truths. A bias, however, arises from this role of academic journals and of the need for scholars to publish in them – namely, a disproportionate amount of attention is given in academic journals to speculative ideas and to exceptions to long-ago-discovered truths. Foundational ideas and long-ago-discovered truths appear only in the background of academic journals, or whenever someone discovers (or believes that he has discovered) an exception to these.
David Henderson has his own take.
I read this as suggesting that the bias toward novelty in academic journals retards progress in economic thinking, by crowding out established truths. That may be an issue. But I have a different issue, which I will get to.
First, on the topic of trade across borders, I share with Boudreaux the presumption that once you establish that A has voluntarily bought X from B and that this was an ethical transaction, you are done. It is not relevant which side of a border B happens to live on. To come up with a relevant distinction, you will have to try some fancy intellectual footwork, and even then you are unlikely to overturn the logic of the free trader.
But for the most part, the problem in academic economics is not that truth has stood still and economists have moved away from it. On the contrary, I am struck that the economy is evolving faster than economics. Economists are still using 19th-century apparatus, such as the capital-labor distinction and marginal-cost pricing theory, in a 21st-century economy that those concepts do not fit very well. Even worse, many economists have so much confidence in their work that they are willing to advocate policy schemes based on very unreliable analytical methods. This gap between antiquated and inadequate models and the hubristic claims of economists is the issue that most disturbs me.
We are not white-coated scientists dealing with brainless inanimate objects or unintelligent lower creatures. We are not continuously cutting down on our ignorance and increasing the share of economic behavior that we understand.
We are studying phenomena that can change at a faster pace than we can acquire knowledge. We are studying humans who are embedded in institutions that are more nimble and clever than we are. In the markets where we attempt to make policy, such as health care or banking, there is usually much more knowledge embedded in the people and organizations that work in those fields than there is in our long-distance observation of them. And we are not gaining on them. They are gaining on us.