anti-economists

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This morning’s Globe includes a lengthy, very low quality article by Ira Basen on what’s wrong with modern economic research. It’s yet another repackaging of the same old ideologically-charged and technically incompetent canards, basically reducing all of economic thought to a cartoon version of macroeconomic theory circa 1980, and all economic research to mindless and/or corrupt advocacy of laissez-faire politics.

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David Orrell, a mathematician who works on biological problems, recently published a book called Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong. Economyths is a terrible, willfully ignorant, deeply anti-intellectual book. The characterization of economic thought presented is ridiculous. The level of scholarship is abysmal.

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It is often, correctly I think, noted that economists are relatively bad at communicating results from economic research to the general public. A related failure is economists tend to be relatively bad at squashing ridiculous criticism of economics. Economics, biology, and climatology are all disciplines which tend to attract lots of craptastic criticism, and for similar reasons. One might think that biologists in particular might tread carefully when attacking other disciplines, given how much nonsense is written by creationists and their fellow travellers. Alas, some of the most egregiously poorly-aimed attacks on economics come from biologists, and not just David Suzuki.

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Who thinks economists know what they’re doing? And who thinks we don’t have a clue? Has the financial crisis altered the public’s perceptions of economics? And if so, which people tend to have changed their minds? Sex, ethnicity, immigration status, religious attendance, and political ideology do not, some evidence presented in this post suggests, predict beliefs about economic understanding. Older people trust economists somewhat less, all else equal. The only basic demographic factor which is highly associated with the belief that economists don’t know what they’re doing is low educational achievement. The financial crisis does appear to have reduced the public’s credence in economists’ competence, but basic demographics don’t strongly predict which people changed their minds.

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