During my recent IHS webcast and post on being a public intellectual and getting involved with the media, I suggested a few strategies for getting started.
Here’s an example of a versatile issue where everyone can get involved: government financing for stadiums and arenas. They very clearly benefit special interests, but research by economists like Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys suggests that they are a raw deal for taxpayers (summarized here). It’s a pretty clear issue that should unite people who care about economic efficiency and people who care about justice. No matter your field, you can probably write something–a letter, perhaps-explaining why government stadium financing is a bad idea.
If you’re an economist, you can talk about efficiency. If you’re a political scientist, you can talk about efficiency and rent-seeking. If you’re a philosopher, you can write about justice and distribution. In an episode of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns shakes down the city to get a government-financed arena. Before the first game for the Springfield Excitement, he offers the following welcome: “Welcome to the American Dream: a billionaire using public funds to construct a private playground for the rich and powerful!”
Is that just? Is it efficient? Will the stadium be a good idea, or was it a good idea? This is a clear example of an issue where public opinion and expert opinion diverge.
The costs are considerable. Here’s an interesting graphic courtesy of Deadspin. Here’s a 2008 post from Cato’s David Boaz. Once again, these aren’t the kinds of things you need to devote a lot of time and energy to. At the margin, though, ask what you can do–one more letter to the editor, one more op-ed, both based on lecture notes you’ve written anyway–to help people see the unseen.
Ed Note: Here’s another topic recently in the news from Oregon, Nike via the governor, has called an emergency special session of the state legislature to discuss “greater tax certainty” via Jacob Grier. Also, see some of the op-eds regularly published by other IHS professors like Art in our Free Market Academics Around the Web archive.
Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute, a Senior Fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and a regular contributor to Forbes.com, LearnLiberty, and Kosmos.