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Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Sad State of the Economics Profession

By Frank Hollenbeck

It is not an exaggeration to say the current reputation of economists is probably just below that of a used car salesman. The recent failures of economic policies to boost growth or employment have tarnished this image even more. This, however, is in sharp contrast to the past when economists were seen as the intellectual roadblock to popular misconceptions, bad ideas, or more importantly, government policies sold to the public on false assumptions. Popular slogans such as “protecting American jobs” play on nationalism, but in reality only serve special interests. The economist of the past would never have hesitated to highlight the fallacies in such reasoning.

Most economists today, however, have sold themselves to the enemy. They work for government agencies such as the IMF, OECD, World Bank, central banks, or academic institutions where their research is heavily subsidized by government agencies. To succeed they have to “toe the line.” You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Today, these economists and bought-and-paid-for journalists inform us of the dangers of deflation and the risks of “ low-flation,” and how the printing press will protect us from this catastrophe. Yet there is no theoretical or empirical justification for this fear. On the contrary, a stable money supply would allow prices to better serve the critical function of allocating resources to where they are most needed. The growth resulting from stable money would normally be associated with rapidly falling prices as was the case during most of the nineteenth century.

When President Obama first talked about raising the minimum wage, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics, quickly published an article supporting such an increase. Yet, even a first-year student in economics knows price controls distort the resource allocation function of prices, thus benefiting one group or special interests at the expense of the rest of society. Although some will receive a higher minimum wage, many others will simply be thrown under the bus. A political pundit should not be masquerading as an economist.

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