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Why We Need More Economists

The economics profession should not be so defensive toward critics who blame it for rising inequality. Insights from the dismal science – and in particular economists' advocacy of market-based policies to boost prosperity – have proven their worth many times over.

LONDON – In a recent commentary in The New York Times, Binyamin Appelbaum placed the blame for increasing inequality in the United States squarely at the feet of economists. He cited the work, among others, of the Nobel laureate economist Robert Lucas, who directed policymakers’ attention toward the problem of growth and away from redistribution. Appelbaum also cited statistics on life expectancy in the US, which has fallen in recent years, owing partly to higher rates of drug abuse and suicide among economically disadvantaged groups.

But economists have not ignored the problem of inequality – far from it. Inequality has become a central research area in economics over the past decade, and has entered the public discourse in the US because of the penetrating work like that of Princeton’s Anne Case and Nobel laureate economist Angus Deaton. Moreover, there has been increasing collaboration between economists and other researchers from both the social and physical sciences – an approach I actively support through my involvement with the Rebuilding Macroeconomics project at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in the United Kingdom.

The economics profession should not be so defensive in the face of criticism like Appelbaum’s. Economists are not omniscient, of course. But insights from the dismal science – and in particular the advocacy of market-based policies to boost prosperity – have proven their worth many times over.

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