Obama Administration Needs Sociologists

17 August 2009 at 11:55 am 9 comments

| Peter Klein |

And fewer economists, according to the sociologists interviewed by Inside Higher Ed:

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, described watching the news in December, as the economy was in a free fall and Barack Obama, as president-elect, was naming people to key positions in his administration. From the social sciences, he said, it was “the same old cast of characters,” and that means economists.

Obama’s election had brought “a sense of possibility,” but “as a sociologist I was pissed off,” he said.

“I have economist envy on a good day and worse things on a bad day,” he said.

I have great respect for my sociologically trained brethren and sistren (cistern?) but am not sure what, exactly, they are asking for. One sociologist thinks economists downplay race and gender — “their supply and demand curves don’t deal with these questions” — which is silly, as much of the analysis of subprimes by labor economists focuses exactly on this. I’m not claiming that sociology (or anthropology or history or psychology) has no useful policy implications, of course, only asking for specifics.

The pointer is from Rich Vedder who has a bit of fun with the whole thing:

One Nobel Prize winner in economics, Doug North, once told me that one of his proudest academic moments was convincing Washington U. in St. Louis to get rid of its sociology department. Jim Dorn, estimable editor of the Cato Journal, told me at lunch that Bill Meckling did the same thing at the University of Rochester, where the administration reallocated funds away from sociology towards economics and business. Whether Doug’s and Bill’s position was correct or not is debatable, but I think public policy has too many, not too few, experts guiding it, and adding sociologists to the mix would not be useful.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Public Policy / Political Economy.

Four Talks on Keynes Mintzberg Interview

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Russ Coff  |  17 August 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Do we need an expert to tell us that the recession is all socially constructed anyway?

  • 2. Jongwook Kim  |  17 August 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Why don’t we see anyone with a degree in strategic management on Obama’s cabinet? In these times of crises on many fronts, don’t we need a lot of strategic thinking right now?

  • 3. Rafe Champion  |  17 August 2009 at 3:42 pm

    More sociologists? What about some praxeologists?

  • 4. joshmccabe  |  17 August 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Of course he was from UMass Amherst…

    He may have a point, but he’s being a bit premature. The TSI crew won’t have their degrees for another few years.

  • 5. Kopertowki  |  18 August 2009 at 4:43 am

    Maybe you are right with saying that sociologist is needed. Sometimes it is almost impossible to see the upcoming reaction to things you are trying to do. And sometimes changes just needed to be explained to the people, so they could understand why the changes are being pushed. But there are also a changes that makes people suffer, that future generations could live in better world. In such cases no sociologist will help, cause the society will ban those changes instantly.

  • 6. Brian Pitt  |  18 August 2009 at 6:05 am

    Perhaps a sociologist apprising that the recession is/was socially constructed would be useless. Or, at least not tell the American people anything they did not already know.

    But, a theoretically-informed investigation of the macro-micro-macro transition from the subprime bust (macro) to folks’ attitudes about their personal economic futures (micro) to aggregate spending on “consumption or lower-order goods” (macro) may be helpful. Then again, how useful would this be to policy? Probably not very much.

  • […] a comment » Our evil twin, Orgs and Markets, covers the Inside Higher Ed article that discusses how some sociologists have econ envy, an article that generated a bit of chuckling. And I can’t blame them: sociologists do have […]

  • 8. seansafford  |  26 August 2009 at 9:24 am

    I think at the moment is lacking sociologists, economists, bureaucrats, sycophants and courtesans of all stripes. They just need to get butts into seats regardless of disciplinary bent s’far as I can tell: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/us/politics/24confirm.html

  • 9. TRUTH ON THE MARKET » Some Links …  |  17 September 2009 at 2:08 pm

    […] the right sociologists” … Sociologists want a seat at the table in the White House.  Peter Klein submits at least one of the appropriate objections: “One sociologist thinks economists […]

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