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Abba Lerner’s Thoughts on Consumer Sovereignty

Summary:
One of my favorite economists on the left was the late Abba Lerner. In my biography of him for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, I wrote: Abba Lerner was the Milton Friedman of the left. Like Friedman, Lerner was a brilliant expositor of economics who was able to make complex concepts crystal clear. Lerner was also an unusual kind of socialist: he hated government power over people’s lives. Like Friedman, he praised private enterprise on the ground that “alternatives to government employment are a safeguard of the freedom of the individual.” Also like Friedman, Lerner loved Free Markets. He opposed Minimum Wage laws and other price controls because they interfered with the price system, which he called “one of the most valuable instruments of modern

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Abba Lerner’s Thoughts on Consumer Sovereignty

One of my favorite economists on the left was the late Abba Lerner. In my biography of him for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, I wrote:

Abba Lerner was the Milton Friedman of the left. Like Friedman, Lerner was a brilliant expositor of economics who was able to make complex concepts crystal clear. Lerner was also an unusual kind of socialist: he hated government power over people’s lives. Like Friedman, he praised private enterprise on the ground that “alternatives to government employment are a safeguard of the freedom of the individual.” Also like Friedman, Lerner loved Free Markets. He opposed Minimum Wage laws and other price controls because they interfered with the price system, which he called “one of the most valuable instruments of modern society.”

I also quoted one of my favorite quotes from Lerner:

One of the deepest scars of my early youth was etched when my teacher told me, “You do not want that,” after I had told her that I did. I would not have been so upset if she had said that I could not have it, whatever it was, or that it was very wicked of me to want it. What rankled was the denial of my personality—a kind of rape of my integrity. I confess I still find a similar rising of my hackles when I hear people’s preferences dismissed as not genuine, because influenced by advertising, and somebody else telling them what they “really want.”

The quote is from Abba Lerner, “The Economics and Politics of Consumer Sovereignty.” American Economic Review 62 (May): 258–266. I recommend reading his whole article.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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