Economist Glen Weyl visited UR this past Tuesday to discuss his favored strategy of “radical liberalism” for a series of events organized by the Finance and Economics Council.
Weyl is the co-author of the widely acclaimed book, “Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society.” The book tries to solve problems of income inequality and democracy using market mechanisms.
Weyl visited UR to promote the ideas presented in the book. The visit included a Q&A session with those already familiar with the book and an evening talk for a wider audience.
At the evening talk, economics professor Steven Landsburg gave a short introduction, thanking the Council and the Koch Foundation for supporting the event.
Weyl then began, “I won’t talk as much about the book as I will about radical liberalism.”
Weyl defined “radical liberalism” as “a movement that recognize[s] problems of monopoly and the resulting oppression.” He spoke at length about how the the so-called free market competition that the political right holds so highly is “not competitive at all.”
He continued that “so-called liberal movements have become illiberal […] movements that venerate inequality.”
Weyl is a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and a visiting scholar at Yale University.
In their book, Weyl and his co-author Eric Posner discuss new and composite market designs to combat economic and democratic problems.
These market designs, as Weyl says, use mechanisms such as an auction system where private property is treated as semi-public, sustainability in migrant labor, and limits on financial holdings.
Weyl also pointed out specifically the problems of “stagnequality” ― which he defined as the combination of stagnated growth and inequality within countries.
Weyl commonly referenced economists Henry George and William Spencer Vickrey in his talk. Vickrey is famous for analyzing incentives in the face of asymmetric information and for mechanism design. Weyl particularly applied Vickrey’s auction-based market design thinking to his semi-public auction mechanism.
“Mainstream economists of this era assumed that the prevalent design of market institutions was as good as it could be,” Weyl said. “If markets ‘failed’, the theory went, moderate regulation, based on cost-benefit analysis, would pick up the slack. Questions about inequality were largely ignored.”
Weyl also elaborated on the inability of mainstream political narratives and prevailing economists to identify the problems.
“Public opinion polarized […] because of long-simmering controversies, anger at the elites took an ugly turn, resulting in an increase in xenophobia and populism”, Weyl said.
He went on to talk about how most targeted attacks toward political systems offered no alternatives.
“Capitalism is blamed for inequality and slowing growth, but no alternative had presented itself,” he continued. “Liberal democracy is blamed for corruption, but authoritarianism isn’t a substitute. Globalization and international governance institutions have become scapegoats, despite having no other sustainable path for international relations.”
After the talk, Weyl opened the floor to questions. He encouraged questions particularly from underrepresented minorities and women, saying that these groups in general “asked less questions, despite having better questions.”
There were a few questions from the audience about mechanism specifics, clarifications, incentives, and dealing with irrational behavior in the new markets. However, most questions were asked one-to-one, as the attendees formed a line to speak with Weyl.
Food was served, and Weyl answered the questions over a generous helping of chicken wings.