Those damned Economists

Great quote from deep within a 1000+ comment thread on The Guardian Music Blog. It’s on the weekly Readers Recommend blog, where after the deadline at noon on Monday it turns by tradition into an open thread, and the subject turned to the uses and abuses of history.  Readers Recommend regular Abahachi had this to say:

History is great at explaining why something happened, and reasonably good at offering explanations of what is currently happening, and that’s why it’s vital. On the whole historians are very realistic about the limitations of their knowledge and foresight, and will be the first to say “Yes, but it’s more complicated than that.” It’s people like the damned economists, who convince themselves (largely by ignoring all of history) that they fully understand the way the world works and so can issue instructions about how it should be refashioned according to their views on how it ought to work, that are dangerous.

Indeed. Economists who set themselves up as experts in totally unrelated fields from criminology to climate science are an absolute bloody menace. And because they’ve got academic qualifications too many people who ought to know better (such as politicians) take them seriously, despite the fact that qualifications in economics aren’t always relevant outside their field.  It’s like expecting literary critics to be good at engineering (or vice-versa).

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5 Responses to Those damned Economists

  1. Guitartim says:

    The events of the last few years suggest that the economists aren’t even that great at their own field of alleged expertise, let alone anyone else’s…

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Indeed. If you laid all the worlds economists end-to-end, they would never reach a conclusion.

  3. Richard says:

    You musn’t lump all economists together any more than all medics, computer scientists or music critics. The recession was largely caused by greedy bankers advised by some half-educated economists (lacking study of history). But it is better educated economists who have helped governments avoid recession becoming a 1930s style slump – warding off those politicians who would cut public spending and so make things worse. And as for using economic tools “outside their field” there are a host of examples of economists, often in cooperation with others such as pyschologists, using understanding of incentives, markets, human behaviour and how things interrelate to help make life better in all sorts of ways.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    and how things interrelate to help make life better in all sorts of ways.

    Examples please!