One thing in particular jumped out at me: the authors of the report are still worked up about fights that happened in the economics profession decades ago. This, as much as the popularity of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, accounts for the report’s animus (and for the otherwise inexplicable focus on revolutionary land reform). The authors lament that, in 1976, “Paul Samuelson, the first American to win the Nobel Prize in economics, expressed surprise that the Soviet collective farms were not more productive than private land allotments.” Worse, Samuelson and William Nordhaus could still write in 1989 that the “Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.” John Gurley, a radical economist who was apparently at one time “one of the 11 managing editors of the American Economic Review,” is taken to task for a positive evaluation he made of the Chinese economy in 1969. Going back even further, the radical British economists Joan Robinson and Sol Adler are rebuked for their 1958 claim that in China “the agricultural producers’ cooperatives have finally put an end to the minute fragmentation of the land.”
In other words, the report’s authors remember, in a way that perhaps few outside the profession do, that mainstream economists throughout the twentieth century treated socialism and communism extremely seriously, and occasionally even sympathetically. If there’s something worth taking away from the report, then, it’s the recognition that economics is a political argument, not just a technical exercise. This is a point that some of the report’s liberal critics seemed reluctant to accept.