Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ezra Klein on the Tyranny of Economists

Confession – I’m a big fan of the writings of young Ezra Klein and he has point here:

Matt Yglesias has an interesting post on "prestige cross-pollination," which he defines as "the habit of distinguished economists using prestige acquired within their field to pass off sloppy work in other fields." ... Peter Orszag is probably the most powerful voice on health-care policy. Larry Summers, by most accounts, has a hand in literally everything. Economists, in other words, are the prime movers on not only the economy, but health care, climate change, housing policy and much else. The argument for this, of course, is that these issues have heavy economic components. Cap and trade, for instance, is based around the construction of a new market for carbon. And it's not as if there aren't issue specialists -- think climate czar Carol Browner -- around the table. But these issues also have heavy political components, and there aren't mega-powerful political scientists in the White House. And these issues have heavy behavioral components, but though the economists often bring behavioral studies to bear, there aren't research psychologists wandering the West Wing. All these disciplines have skill sets that could be applied broadly, but only economists are given these massive portfolios.

But I have to differ with Ezra on this claim:

You don't see sociologists being asked to write op-eds on the Federal Reserve, or biologists being given a forum to talk about health-care policy.

I guess Ezra missed the CNN show where Sanjay Gupta tried to lecture Michael Moore on health-care policy. Or all the times some right-wing nutcase told us laissez-faire works perfectly or how tax cuts cure all evils. No, there are lots of non-economists who write all sorts of silly things about economic policy. By the way, sometimes non-economists say some perfectly reasonable things. Which reminds me – time to catch-up on some reading.


Shag from Brookline said...

"No, there are lots of non-economists who write all sorts of silly things about economic policy."

PGL: Have you been reading Robert Samuelson lately?

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Shag - Paul Krugman has been reading Robert (no relationship to Paul) Samuelson so we don't have to:

Anonymous said...

Won't somebody please think of the lawyers ??

BillCinSD said...

aren't there also lot's of economists who write all sorts of silly things about economics