Bruce Yandle and the Art of Economic Communication


Bruce Yandle is one of the most influential economists of his generation, especially in the fields of environmental economics and public choice economics. But Yandle is also one of the most gifted communicators of economics and economic principles of his generation. This chapter, written for a book celebrating Yandle’s career and contributions to economic thought, is inspired by Yandle’s unparalleled gift for communication. It focuses particularly on Yandle’s use of modes of reasoning and “visions” about the world to illustrate the challenges of communicating economic concepts to citizens and government officials and how recognizing those challenges can enable economists to communicate better and, in so doing, to improve the world through the design of better regulatory policies. The chapter begins by reviewing Yandle’s use of the frameworks of Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to explain public and governmental resistance to environmental economics and then supplements the analysis with more recent and related work by Jonathan Haidt and psychological personality-typing, focusing particularly on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator framework. The chapter concludes with autobiographical reflections on how Yandle’s insights about economic communication and his pedagogical style have influenced my own efforts to communicate in the public arena with respect to questions of consumer financial protection which, like environmental regulation, is fraught with strong moral intuitions and contrasting visions of the world.