Elizabeth Popp Berman
On the influence of economic reasoning on American social policy
Keynes once said that we take for granted our way of thinking; it is often the residue of whispered frameworks from long dead economist. In this interview, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Elizabeth Popp Berman, Associate Professor of Organizational Studies at University of Michigan. We spoke about her new book, "Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy" recently published by Princeton University Press, and her career as a sociologist. I’m still reading the book, but I’m considering assigning it to my students this summer alongside Okun’s classic “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff”. As Elizabeth and I spoke about the topics of her book, I kept remembering a story I once heard about Stigler and Posner. When Posner became a federal judge, Stigler sent him allegedly a statute of Justice holding scales — in one scale was a wooden block marked Equity. On the other scale was a wooden block marked Efficiency. Efficiency was much larger than Equity and the scales tipped towards Efficiency. This, I think, is an anecdote and an image to hold in your mind as you listen to Elizabeth talk about her project in this book, as well as the broader trends in American social policy.