Monday, May 4, 2009

Business Week Cover Story: "What Good Are Economists Anyway?"

The April 27 cover story in Business Week asks the chilling question--especially for us economists--"What good are economists anyway?"

And I must admit I encounter similar feelings lately, around almost any corner. As an economist, volunteering to attend a cocktail party these days feels a bit like volunteering to catch falling knives: I'm going to get hurt. And the only thing to be determined is at what point in the party the bloodying will happen (when someone turns the conversation to economic questions), and the extent of the damage (how deep the insults are).

Check out the intro to the Business Week feature:

Economists mostly failed to predict the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Now they can't agree how to solve it. People are starting to wonder: What good are economists anyway? A commenter on a housing blog wrote recently that economists did a worse job of forecasting the housing market than either his father, who has no formal education, or his mother, who got up to second grade. "If you are an economist and did not see this coming, you should seriously reconsider the value of your education and maybe do something with a tangible value to society, like picking vegetables," he wrote on

Take that, you pointy-headed failures! Go jump off a supply curve!

"Pointy-headed failures?" "[P]icking vegetables?" Ouch.

Thankfully the article concludes its indictment of my chosen profession with a reminder to all of us that -- love them or hate them -- economists make us ultimately better off than we might be otherwise. And I'm especially thankful my wife is already a believer, and has never lost faith in her personal economist.

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