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Science and Free Markets

I was very glad to see free markets being defended by someone from academia! The comparison between scientific progress and the free market is right on!
Link: Pure Pedantry : On the parallels between science and the free market.

I have always been struck by the parallels between the free market and the scientific enterprise -- yet I am puzzled that so few scientists embrace free markets.

Let me put it this way. What would happen if the government decided what scientific questions we should pursue by fiat? Most scientists would tell you that new discoveries would be stifled because the scientists could not pursue those questions that they find most interesting. Bureaucrats would not be as educated in all the areas the scientists were studying, nor could the enterprise benefit from the plurality of techniques employed in the absence of central planning. Science -- it would appear -- benefits from a form of entreperneurial competition.

Yet, most scientists -- at least the ones I have met -- are not whole-hearted proponents of free markets. Most scientists I have met have a strong socialist bent. Why they fail to see how what is beneficial to the process of science would not be desirable for the rest of society is a source of continuing puzzlement to me.


Scientific enterprise would be perfectly amenable to central planning if we knew what the answers would be in advance. Unfortunately, we don't. Similarly, state planning of the economy would be lovely if we knew what technologies would turn out to be important and where resources should be allocated years into the future. Unfortunately, we don't. Because we do not operate in a world filled with ideal information, Phelps argues that society benefits from the dynamism and creative destruction of the free market. I would argue that the same premise applies to the scientific enterprise -- and that scientists should recognize the parallel.


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