Monday, May 28, 2012

Greg Mankiw As Trofim Lysenko

In speculating who will be the Treasury secretary if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, Felix Salmon writes, "[John Taylor and Glenn Hubbard], I think, would be dreadful: you really don't want your Treasury to be a political hack." A pseudonymous commentator then says:
"Is Felix really calling the creator of the Taylor rule a political hack? He’s more accomplished as an academic than anyone else mentioned in this post – arguably more accomplished as an academic than all of them put together..."
In economics, one can both continually spout lies and nonsense in the public sphere and be a very successful academic.

Noah Smith, just starting an academic career, on the other hand, characterizes the knavish Greg Mankiw as "grumpy". One needs a wide-range of euphemisms to talk about (some) supposedly leading economists.

How can economics be reformed so one would have some default reason to give economists any credibility? (Obviously, I think some economists are worth listening to.)


Charles Stewart said...

Is the problem with economics one of professional incentives, where the purpose of economics is scientific, but career success resembles that in business school, where prestige is associated as much with closeness to the political elite as it does to the quality of one's research?

Fixing such incentives is hard. If we were to look on this as a game, what powers are we assigned? Do we control a journal, a department hiring committee, a funding agency?

Unlearningecon said...

'How can economics be reformed so one would have some default reason to give economists any credibility?'

(a) Make them take a history module. The first thing you learn in history is to abandon the type of simplistic thinking spouted by economists.

(b) Remember to mention, repeatedly, that they are only learning a theory and that there are competing theories. Maybe even teach them some (too unrealistic?)

Anonymous said...

(a) Require the presentation of historical and/or experimental evidence with every theory. If it ain't got none, refuse to teach the theory.

As Charles Stewart says, what powers are we assigned? There are different "cleanup" methods if we control journals, department chairmanships, funding agencies, etc.

If we control none of those, the best "cleanup" method is rather extreme, involving starting new departments -- with a new name, such as "political economy" -- where we *do* control hiring, and new journals where we control acceptance of articles. These new organizations will have to actively mock, reviling, and blacklisting the "old" economics profession and the crooks and liars in the profession.


Robert Vienneau said...

I don't know an answer, and academics would want such reforms to be consistent with respecting academic freedom (not that many mainstream economists seemed concerned with violations of, say, Philip Mirowski's academic freedom).