19 September 2010

Economics as ideology, or, The Other Dismal Science

So at some point people thought that economists actually might be good at forecasting things.

No wait.

This is serious.

Apparently, some people actually believed that.

But only now is some mathematician figuring out there might be some doubt as to the ability of your average economist to forecast much of anything with any accuracy.

According to David Orrell:
Current economic theory is less a science than an ideology peculiar to a certain period of history, which may well be nearing an end…
All jokes aside, the Globe piece by Brian Milner is worth the time, if for no other reason than there is an audio excerpt of Orrell reading from his book, Economyths: 10 ways economists get it wrong.

While Orrell uses ideology in another sense, it is interesting that two of the economists who get the most popular attention in Newfoundland and Labrador seem to be more ideological or partisan than analytical.  To wit:
- srbp -


towniebastard said...

My favourite definition of Economics comes from despair.com. In fact, it's the poster for the month of September. Considering what happened two years ago, it seemed appropriate.

"The science of explaining tomorrow why the predictions you made yesterday didn't come true today."

Geoff Meeker said...

I remember a particularly funny Doonesbury strip, in which the character sat bolt upright in his bed, awakened by two shadowy characters coming out of his closet. Dressed in suits, they introduced themselves as economists, then pulled up chairs beside his bed.

"What the... I have nightmares about economists?" he said, befuddled, adding, "Well, as long as they don't talk about the economy."

"The economy?" said one. "Oh, it's improving."

"No, it's not," said the other.

"Arrrgghhhh!" screamed our protagonist, and the nightmare had begun.

Well, okay, but it was funny at the time.

Wm. Murphy said...

That ceratinly adds to the tone of debate Geoff...thanks for that

towniebastard said...

That wasn't Doonesbury, it was Bloom County. And yes, it was funny.

Geoff Meeker said...

Yes, come to think of it, Bastard is right... it WAS Bloom. It was the Eighties, okay? My memory is hazy.

Ed Hollett said...

Either way, it's still funny.

There's an episode of the West Wing featuring economists squaring off over whether the economy is improving or not.

But one of the things that struck me connects this post to the one about public sector employment. Just imagine a pair of economists who put together a piece supporting an increase in public sector employment in a province where the public sector is already the largest as a share of the labour force in North America and without once even mentioning this might be an issue.