Wheelan plays up the downside of economics at talk

“The political process responds to heat and noise and not to numbers,” author and lecturer Charlie Wheelan said at a Harris School talk Friday.

By Crystal Tsoi

Charlie Wheelan, author of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, spoke on the dismal side of economic policy at the Harris School on Friday.

Wheelan, a senior lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, criticized current policy and discussed the underlying factors of gridlock in health care and global warming policy.

“The political process responds to heat and noise and not to numbers,” Wheelan said, noting that U.S. policy tends to be reactive instead of preventative, which leaves holes in solutions to lingering problems.

Wheelan, who ran as a Democrat and lost in the special election for Illinois’ fifth congressional district in 2009, said the political process discourages preventative measures.

“The United States is the best country in the world if you have a child that falls down an open well and survives,” Wheelan said, but remarked that the U.S. would rarely spend the money to cover the hole in the first place.

Even if a piece of legislation is intended to benefit the overall population, it’s hard to measure how effective it is because some individuals are harmed no matter what, according to Wheelan. “When we say things are good for society, they’re never good for everybody,” he said. “What we mean is that they are good for most people and they’re usually bad for some people.”

In the end, Wheelan blamed both voters and congressmen for lack of policy progress. “If you sum that up, most of you will be eating something that you don’t want to eat and watching a movie that you don’t want to watch and we’re going mandate you to pay more than its worth,” Wheelan said. “And that to my mind is public policy.”