¿Sirven para algo los economistas?

NEW HAVEN – Desde la crisis financiera mundial y la recesión de 2007-2009, la crítica de la economía como profesión se ha intensificado. Que casi todos los economistas profesionales fracasaran a la hora de predecir el episodio –cuyas repercusiones aún perduran– ha llevado a muchos a preguntarse si la profesión de la economía contribuye con algo significativo a la sociedad. Si los economistas fueron incapaces de prever algo tan importante para el bienestar de la gente, ¿sirven para algo?

De hecho, los economistas fueron incapaces de predecir la mayoría de las principales crisis del último siglo, incluida la grave depresión de 1920-21, las recesiones consecutivas de 1980-82 y la peor de todas, la Gran Depresión después de la caída de la bolsa de valores de 1929. Cuando busqué en los archivos de noticias del año previo al inicio de esas recesiones, no encontré prácticamente ninguna advertencia de economistas sobre la aproximación de una crisis grave. En lugar de eso, los periódicos enfatizaban las opiniones de ejecutivos de negocios o políticos, quienes tendían a ser muy optimistas.

Lo más cercano a una advertencia real tuvo lugar antes de la crisis de 1980-82. En 1979, el presidente de la Reserva Federal, Paul A. Volcker, informó a la Comisión Conjunta de Economía del Congreso de EE. UU. que Estados Unidos enfrentaba «situaciones económicas desagradables» y tenía la «necesidad de decisiones difíciles, moderación, e incluso sacrificio». La probabilidad de que la Fed tuviera que implementar medidas drásticas para poner freno a una inflación galopante, junto con los efectos de la crisis del petróleo de 1979, llevaron a que una recesión grave resultara bastante probable.

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