Tim Brinton

The Uses and Abuses of Economic Ideology

John Maynard Keyenes once wrote that, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” But today the greater danger is that practical men and women gravitate to vulgar versions of the dominant beliefs of economists who are very much alive.

LONDON – John Maynard Keynes famously wrote that “the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than commonly understood. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

But I suspect that a greater danger lies elsewhere, with the practical men and women employed in the policymaking functions of central banks, regulatory agencies, governments, and financial institutions’ risk-management departments tending to gravitate to simplified versions of the dominant beliefs of economists who are, in fact, very much alive.

Indeed, at least in the arena of financial economics, a vulgar version of equilibrium theory rose to dominance in the years before the financial crisis, portraying market completion as the cure to all problems, and mathematical sophistication decoupled from philosophical understanding as the key to effective risk management. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, in its Global Financial Stability Reviews (GFSR), set out a confident story of a self-equilibrating system.

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