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Blame the Economists, Not Economics

CAMBRIDGE – As the world economy tumbles off the edge of a precipice, critics of the economics profession are raising questions about its complicity in the current crisis. Rightly so: economists have plenty to answer for.

It was economists who legitimized and popularized the view that unfettered finance was a boon to society. They spoke with near unanimity when it came to the “dangers of government over-regulation.” Their technical expertise – or what seemed like it at the time –gave them a privileged position as opinion makers, as well as access to the corridors of power.

Very few among them (notable exceptions including Nouriel Roubini and Robert Shiller) raised alarm bells about the crisis to come. Perhaps worse still, the profession has failed to provide helpful guidance in steering the world economy out of its current mess. On Keynesian fiscal stimulus, economists’ views range from “absolutely essential” to “ineffective and harmful.”

On re-regulating finance, there are plenty of good ideas, but little convergence. From the near-consensus on the virtues of a finance-centric model of the world, the economics profession has moved to a near-total absence of consensus on what ought to be done.