Sunday, December 18, 2011

Are Economists Good People?

A funny economist has written a funny OP-ED for the NY Times.  You can read Yoram B's piece here.  He returns to the old question of whether jerks self select and choose to be economists or does studying economics transform angels into pedantic Darth Vaders?

Permit me to defend my wife and myself.    Economics makes you a better strategic thinker.  You begin to anticipate how others will respond to a particular stimulus.  Such an appreciation for unintended consequences distinguishes us from other thinkers.  We also have a growing understanding of disentangling causation from correlation.  We are quite sophisticated with respect to how we crunch data to tease out "freakonomic" facts. Both of these are useful skills.  The world faces so many problems that some people want to believe in the magic bullets that policy entrepreneurs are peddling.  Yes, economists are a cynical crew and idealism is refreshing but I'm confident that naive idealism will only cause trouble and abuse.  Be prepared!

Our intense focus on the role of incentives and establishing an agenda for identifying "causal effects" should score us a lot of points with the general public.

Yes, economists free ride and many of us prefer to be rewarded with monetary compensation rather than "social recognition" for our good deeds but  Economists are a diverse group spanning both the political left and right.  If you want to see some economists who care, then visit this webpage.