Russ Roberts: Why Economists Are Irrelevant

The host of EconTalk and author of Wild Problems says our biggest decisions don't submit to easy cost-benefit analyses.


"I came to realize that economists…tend to focus on things that can be measured," says Russ Roberts, host of the long-running podcast, EconTalk, and author of the new book Wild Problems. "Dignity is hard to measure. A sense of self is hard to measure. Belonging is hard to measure. A feeling of transcendence is hard to measure. Mattering—that you are important, that people look to you. [These sorts of things are] about the life well-lived and they're not about getting the most out of your money. They're not about what the interest rates are next week. And economists truthfully have virtually nothing to say about these things."

Roberts is an economist by training whose great theme over the past 40-plus years has been the fundamental inadequacy of his chosen discipline to really comprehend what matters most to the people it seeks to explain and understand. Wild Problems deals with the decisions that define us—such as whether to marry, whether to have kids, and what kind of work to pursue—that don't yield to anything like easy cost-benefit analyses.

I talk with Roberts about how to navigate the increasing amount of choice most of us have gained over the past 50 years and how to make sense of a world that is richer than ever in material resources but seemingly lacking in deeper meaning. We discuss Roberts' own life, from earning a Ph.D. in economics at the University of Chicago in the 1970s to starting EconTalk, one of the longest-running podcasts around, to becoming president of Shalem College, a private liberal arts college in Israel, and the central role that religion plays in his life.

Previous Reason interviews with Russ Roberts:

"Why the Middle Class Is Better Off Than You Think," October 31, 2019

"Should You Be Optimistic About America's Future?" April 26, 2018

"Adam Smith's Surprising Guide to Happiness (but Not Wealth)," October 8, 2014

"Why Keynesians Always Get It Wrong (and Most Economists Too)," October 11, 2012

"The Price of Everything," October 23, 2008

"What You Need To Know About the Bailout," October 7, 2008

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