Boettke on the “economists’ conundrum”

From Chapter 1 of Peter Boettke’s Living Economics. I received the book as a gift on Monday and just started reading it.

This is the economists’ age-old plight: what is fleeting in economics is politically popular, whereas what is enduring in economics is politically unpopular. Hayek describes the economists’ conundrum as consisting of being called upon to consult with politicians on matters of public policy more often than any other social scientists, only to have their advice based on the principles of the science dismissed as soon as it is uttered. Not only are the teachings of the discipline dismissed, but public opinion on the matters at hand seems to run in precisely the opposite direction of that of the economist.

Boettke doesn’t mention what I think is an obvious third layer to this “conundrum.” That is, that as opportunistic young economists grow into their shoes, they themselves are often swayed by political theater and enticed to promote ideas and theories that are “fleeting” and bad for the discipline, yet quite marketable among the reading public. Therefore, the problem threatens not only economists’ image and effectiveness, but the very heart of their discipline.

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