It turns out that the author of A Beautiful Mind has an impressive intellect as well.
In addition to writing the best-selling story of anti-social economist John Nash, Sylvia Nasar has also worked as a reporter for the New York Times and is currently a professor at Columbia. The latter two-thirds of that pedigree usually do not, to put it mildly, guarantee favorable coverage on these pages. Yet and still, Nasar’s work is worthy of note.
“Why did Taiwan, pathetic little former colony, outperform China?” Naser asked in a May 11, 2012 appearance at the libertarian Cato Institute. Nasar pointed out that when you compare countries with similar populations and geography, such as North and South Korea or East and West Germany, the free half works but the communist half does not.
Perhaps these findings are not earth-shaking two decades after the Cold War officially ended but the comparison Nasar made is one most academic economists are loathe to undertake, particularly at Columbia, home base of Joseph E. Stiglitz. Naser came to Cato to respond to a presentation by George Mason University economist John White, who has authored a history of economics in the last century.
White noted that “comprehensive central planning is no longer practiced.” Nasar, who has authored a history of economics of her own, added an asterisk to that point: “Except that there are politicians with learning disabilities like the president of Argentina who wants to nationalize everthing and our friend Hugo Chavez.”
After completing her book, Nasar accepted an invitation to attend a conference of finance ministers which was held in Italy. In doing so, she got to give an account of what really transpires in such rarefied councils that few of us are privy to.
“The question was, ‘Is economic growth no longer benefitting the bottom 90 percent?,” Nasar recalled. “I heard terms like ‘inequality.’”
“I felt like I was back at the [New York] Times in the 80s.” As well, the Swedish finance minister explained why he tried to avoid the corporate subsidies so common on the continent. “I’d rather spend the money on day care centers,” he said.
“Day care centers?” another finance minister said. “We built them.”
Nasar’s famous beautifully minded subject won a Nobel Prize. Perhaps someday she may receive that honor as well.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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