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Murphy vs. Cochrane

Summary:
I have been reading (and enjoying) John Cochrane’s blog lately, which means I show my appreciation by criticizing any mistakes I perceive. My latest at Mises.org laments that Cochrane said income is a “meaningless concept.” I push back with an analogy. (I won’t change the formatting because then it would be double-nested; the following words are directly from my mises.org post.) ======= In this short blog post I won’t give a full rebuttal and explanation of what income is, and how it relates to lifetime consumption (which Cochrane and Sumner do think is a meaningful concept—thank goodness). Interested readers can refer to my earlier piece. For our purposes here, let me just use an analogy to show why Cochrane and Sumner are overreacting. Imagine a PhD

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I have been reading (and enjoying) John Cochrane’s blog lately, which means I show my appreciation by criticizing any mistakes I perceive. My latest at Mises.org laments that Cochrane said income is a “meaningless concept.” I push back with an analogy. (I won’t change the formatting because then it would be double-nested; the following words are directly from my mises.org post.)

=======

In this short blog post I won’t give a full rebuttal and explanation of what income is, and how it relates to lifetime consumption (which Cochrane and Sumner do think is a meaningful concept—thank goodness). Interested readers can refer to my earlier piece. For our purposes here, let me just use an analogy to show why Cochrane and Sumner are overreacting. Imagine a PhD nutritionist surveying all the fad diet crazes and exclaiming:

“Weight” is really a fairly meaningless concept. We don’t all have the same body types, and can’t be described by a single number. Weight varies a lot over a lifetime, and ebbs and flows for many. And “fat weight” is not the same as “muscle weight.” The broad consensus theory of health states that gaining muscle weight shouldn’t be penalized at all. It really isn’t “weight” in any meaningful sense.

Would the above make any sense at all? Would we excuse it by saying, “Oh, that nutritionist is just lashing out at the nonsense in the supermarket tabloids”? Of course not; we would just insist that the experts chide the novices for superficial discussions, and ask them for more nuanced analyses.

Likewise, just because politicians try to justify higher taxes through ludicrous abuses of statistics, doesn’t mean the very concept of “income” is meaningless.

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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