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Why Economics Must Get Broader Before It Gets Better

Even as the public's skepticism toward their profession has grown, economists have continued to ignore increasingly obvious flaws in their analytical frameworks. A discipline long dominated by “high priests” must now adopt a more open mindset, or risk becoming irrelevant.

NEW YORK – The economics profession took a beating after most of its leading practitioners failed to predict the 2008 global financial crisis, and it has been struggling to recover ever since. Not only were the years following the crash marked by unusually low, unequal growth; now we are witnessing a growing list of economic and financial phenomena that economists cannot readily explain.

Like Queen Elizabeth II, who famously asked in November 2008 why nobody had seen the crisis coming, many citizens have grown increasingly skeptical of economists’ ability to explain and predict economic developments, let alone offer sound guidance to policymakers. Some surveys rank economists among the least trusted professionals (after politicians, of course, whose trust economists have also lost). A solid economic training is no longer regarded as a must-have for candidates for top positions in finance ministries and central banks. This marginalization has further weakened economists’ ability to inform and influence decision-making on issues that relate directly to their expertise (or what they would call their comparative and absolute advantage).

The profession owes its deteriorating reputation largely to excessive reliance on its own self-imposed orthodoxies. With more openness to interdisciplinary approaches and the broader use of existing analytical tools, particularly those offered by behavioral science and game theory, mainstream economics could start to overcome its shortcomings.

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