The Impotence of the Economists
| Peter Klein |
My friends in sociology don’t like being ignored by politicians and by the general public. Well, one thing we’ve learned over the last several weeks is that academic economics, too, has virtually no influence on public policy. It’s increasingly clear that the majority of academic economists oppose, often strongly, the AIG rescue, the Paulson plan, the Fed’s move into the commercial-paper market, the Treasury’s acquisition of equity stakes in large banks, and the new round of financial-market regulations that’s just around the corner. Even Greg Mankiw, who sort-of favors the bailout, worries that his pal Ben hasn’t worked hard enough to convince his fellow academic economists.
What do we learn from all this? That economists are poor communicators? That economics is an inherently difficult subject? Or that politicians and special-interest groups willfully ignore what economics teaches about scarcity, tradeoffs, incentives, and the general welfare?
Surely the poor state of economics education plays some role. I’m not an admirer of Paul Krugman’s newspaper columns, but I respect the fact that he’s willing to write for the general public. (If only his columns had some economics in them!) Very few elite economists concern themselves with public education. Ultimately, however, the blame rests with politicians — that uniquely vile breed of humanity — and the special interests they serve. Maybe Albert Jay Nock had it right after all. Economists keep thinking, writing, and teaching, not because anybody in power is listening, but in hope that somewhere out there is a Remnant, however small, keeping the flame alive.