In January I re-read Frank Knight's "The Role of Principles in Economics and Politics," AER 1951 and I have been struck by his argument concerning the educational task of the economist and the paradox the economist faces in public discourse. I went from that essay to re-reading Knight's Intelligence and Democratic Action (Harvard, 1960). This book consists of lectures presented at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Political Economy at UVA in the 1950s.
In this book, Knight makes an important argument about the intellectual prejudices that distort rational public discourse and economic policy deliberations. The two most pernicious economic policy ideas, according to Knight, are (a) protectionism, and (b) inflation. And the reason why these ideas keep surfacing in economic policy is because of the failure of individuals to remember that voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial, and the belief that the government has God-like qualities and acts only to serve the public good.
Reading Knight reminds me of sitting attentively in Professor James Buchanan's classes --- the only classes I ever sat in the front row of --- and his statement that: "It takes varied reiterations to force alien concepts upon reluctant minds." Why is it that economic common-sense is so difficult to communicate?