Greg Mankiw, in the New York Times, demonstrating the deft common touch for which Harvard economists are famous:
No issue divides economists and mere Muggles more than the debate over globalization and international trade. Where the high priests of the dismal science see opportunity through the magic of the market’s invisible hand, Joe Sixpack sees a threat to his livelihood.
Next week, presumably, Greg Mankiw writes on the subject of “Why is it that economists have so little influence in politics?”
Ahh go on then, try and tell me that Mankiw’s just engaging in a little bit of humour (possibly even a self-deprecating sigh at the pomposity of the average economist). No sale. This is how the average professional economist thinks of you lot, for all that you pay his wages; you’re a bunch of mugs who are incapable of understanding anything and just react like children to whatever’s dangled in front of your nose. It’s another of the many scandals of the profession, it is taught in the universities, and you can see it in more or less every popular book entitled something like “Fuckyounomics: How Nobody In The World Knows Jack Shit Except Economists”.
It’s been a staple of CT over the last five years that altogether too many economists have altogether too much academic arrogance when it comes to their dealings with other social science disciplines, but this is as April showers when it comes to the ugly contempt and patronisation displayed by your typical economist to the general working public. I am not sure how this extremely unattractive personality complex came to dominate economics (I am talking about the specific habit of patronising the lay population here rather than general arrogance; JK Galbraith was one of the most arrogant economists in the history of economics, but didn’t have the particular problem I’m talking about here). Part of it must have been picked up from arguments with Marxists, plus of course the fact that modern economics developed significantly out of the RAND Corporation, and picked up a cargo-cult version of the military value system (plus, of course, a surprising proportion of the founding fathers of modern economics had quite severe personality disorders in the medical sense).
My guess, though, is that it’s fundamentally a cry for help. At base, when you get to know them, economists are often quite nice people; as Mankiw correctly notes, they skew quite liberal in their actual politics. Most of them joined the profession out of a genuine desire to make the world a better place, even specifically to help those less fortunate than themselves. And then they find themselves at the age of 30, smack bang on the career track of an academic industry which is in general, organised around its economic base, which is the production and retail of plausible arguments for the capitalist system as it exists. Which is not a dishonourable trade, but probably a bit of an anticlimax for someone who dreamed of joining Hari Seldon’s Foundation. So it is unsurprising that they a) get arsey and b) start developing hate-my-job personality tics that interfere with their ability to actually produce the goods.
Which brings me on to my actual point, that as a High Priest and all that, Mankiw wants to be a bit more careful who he’s patronising. After all, Joe Sixpack is pretty aware that his livelihood is under threat from something, because his bloody real wages haven’t gone up in the last thirty years. If he ceases to blame the foreigners, then since the problem won’t have gone away, he is likely to start looking round for alternative explanations. And the results of that search are unlikely to be anything but very bad news for the Republican Party.