Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nothing human need be foreign to economics

Economists like to think of Economics as a broad church that welcomes investigation of a wide range of human activity from many viewpoints. Nothing human is foreign to us. Non-economists (and perhaps some economists as well) take a much narrower view of what economists can and should investigate, and how well we can do so.

An inadvertently hilarious juxtaposition of those two views comes in a column in The Guardian: Our speechless outrage demands a new language of the common good--Market theory closed down public discourse about injustice. But we urgently need to describe what we should value

The author opines: "But don't look to economists to get us out of this hollow mould of neoliberal economics and its bastard child, managerialism – the cost-benefit analysis and value-added gibberish that has made most people's working lives a mockery of everything they know to value."

She then goes on to suggest that the evils of economics may be remedied by philosophers, and praises Amartya Sen's new book The Idea of Justice.

The joke of course is that the author of the column is blissfully unaware that Amartya is an eminent economist, and the winner of the 1998 Nobel prize in economics.

Needless to say, justice is an excellent thing for economists to study, and strive to understand and achieve.


dWj said...

In my experience, noneconomists are much more fixated on material wealth than economists, who take a much more comprehensive view of well-being.

Tim Worstall said...

Maddy Bunting: yes, she does have this incredible ability to grasp entirely the wrong end of the stick.

She left the newspaper a couple of years back to go and run, erm, an economics think tank. As you might imagine that didn't work out too well and she was back at The Guardian a few months later.