This “Summer Seconds” series gives you a second chance to read classic posts from the NOT PC archives. This time, a piece written three years ago suggesting that instead of extending economics into other fields, economist should instead begin repairing their own manifest professional failures.
Many folk have been talking excitedly about 'pop econ' books like Steven Leavitt's Freakonomics, Steven Landsburg’s Armchair Economist and Tim Harford's Undercover Economist, popular works works purporting to extract economic reasoning from the realms of arid economic analysis and apply it to everyday behaviour—offering dubious statistical insights everything from the use of toilet paper to the alleged impact of abortion on inner city crime.
Great fun. But there is a problem. For all the pleasure to be had in reading these light pieces of pseudo-scholarship (and the huge sales of these books show much fun is being derived from their reading), they appear at a time when the world’s economies are approaching ruin, and the ignorance of mainstream economists to explain their own field has never been more clearly demonstrated. I can’t help wondering then whether it wouldn't be better if instead of applying economic reasoning to other people's fields, these economists first began sorting out their own?
Sorting out the stale hand-me-down drek that is taught so unquestioningly in university economics departments and that passes so universally as mainstream economic reasoning has never been more urgent. A collapse of the world economies that surprised virtually every mainstream economic commentator make that only too clear. Instead they are revelling in what their alleged economics has to say about your nail clippings, or of the 'hidden' effect of what your mother calls you when you're born -- in other words, things of almost total irrelevance -- while being blithely unaware as the meddling of the world's great central bankers brought about the world's great credit crunch.
When most economists miss such an obvious blunder, when they struggle to understand the very basics of their own profession -- including where money comes from and what causes recessions and inflation and even how to properly define them -- it's clear that instead of offering others advice, the economists should begin mucking out their own stables.
Until that's done, (if I may mix a metaphor) perhaps they'd better stick to their own knitting instead of giving more dubious advice to others.
The Undercover Economist (9780345494016): Tim Harford: Books
Armchair Economist: Economics & Everyday Life (9780029177761): Steven E. Landsburg: Books