Thursday, August 16, 2012


Q: What do you call an economist with a prediction?

A: Wrong.


Josh Wilson said...

or a weatherman.

Craig M. Brandenburg said...

Josh— Hey now, that's unfair to meteorology, which, despite not being wrong a lot, is based on science and does a better job than blind guessing.

—Unless I misunderstand you and you're calling the economist a “weatherman”. That's a good non sequitur and reminds me of another joke.

Q: How many avant garde surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Marshmallow.

Josh Wilson said...

No, I meant that weathermen are wrong a lot and I'm not sure their science is much better. However the big difference is that economists treat the economy as if it can be studied as an impartial, rational subject. But it is a human activity, and must be examined in the light of moral and social considerations, like other human activities. In otherwords, I do not believe you can have a proper economics that is value-neutral.
But this is a bit heavy for a reply to a joke. The jokes were funny.

Craig M. Brandenburg said...

Josh— Ah, well, taking a joke seriously might be unacceptable in polite company, but it's OK here at JEC—especially when you make a good point.

Your criticism of the feigned value-neutrality of (mainstream) economics is such a good point. My take is that poor people can't afford to hire economists, so economists are employed by people and institutions who benefit from keeping things mostly as they are. It's not at all shocking that most economists end up supporting the status quo with only mild variations. By the way, this is why you can take almost any mention of the phrase "the economy" in mainstream news and replace it with "the status quo" and get a more accurate, though more cynical, description of what's going on.

The value-neutral language economists use to describe theory and policy is the result of catering to entrenched interests: there's no need to talk of values when the buyers are mostly getting what they want. Not only that, there's some need to not talk about values because many moral theories suggest that the entrenched interests should give up some of their advantages.

But value-neutrality isn't the case in a lot of fringe economics. To take an example you're familiar with: distributism. The language of distributism, as with many other out-of-favor economic theories, abounds with moral sentiment.