Do Economists Matter - 5 Do Economists Matter? A professor...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–3. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
5 Do Economists Matter? A professor of economics is torn between two views of his professional role in this world. At least, this professor is. One view, in which most of us were brought up, is that economists are the expert critics or defenders of any and all economic policies-not the only critics but surely among the more powerful. We study existing and alternative economic arrangements, and we are armed in our study with a theory of substantial power. We may not win all our battles-the persist- ence and even the upward surge of economic protectionism is a sufficient reminder that we may be more impotent than omnipotent-but we win some battles, and hope and strive to win more. The contrasting view, to which I am led by this same professional training, is that consumers generally determine what will be produced, and producers make profits by discovering more precisely what consum- ers want and producing it more cheaply. Some may entertain a tinge of doubt about this proposition, thanks to the energy and skill of Professor Galbraith, but even his large talents hardly raise a faint thought that I live in a house rather than a tent because of the comparative advertising outlays of the two industries. This Cambridge eccentricity aside, then, it is useful to say that consumers direct production-and therefore, do they not direct the production of the words and ideas of intellectuals, rather than, as in the first view, vice versa? There you have my dilemma and my theme. Now let me back up a little and examine the foundations of the two attitudes toward the intellectual in general, and the economist in particular. 1. The Economist as Friend and Guide to The Public Why, when the economist gives advice to his society, is he so often and so cooly ignored? He never ceases to preach free trade-although the sermons are getting less frequent-and protectionism is growing in the United States. He deplores the perverse effects of minimum wage laws, and the legal minimum is regularly raised each 3 or 5 years. He brands usury laws as medieval superstition, but no state hurries to repeal its law. We economists give several explanations for the unwisdom of our society. The first explanation is that the public does not understand our Reprinted from Southern Economic lournal42 (January 1976).
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
THE SOCIOLOGY OF THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE arguments, and therefore does not understand its self-interest. Tariffs are with us because the theory of comparative cost is beyond the comprehen- sion of ordinary citizens. Consider, let us say, the tired factory hand or physician who has picked up Ricardo, and reads: "England may be so circumstanced, that to produce the cloth may require the labour of 100 men for one year; and if she attempted to make the wine, it might require the labour of 120 men for the same time. England would therefore find it her interest to import wine, and to purchase it by the ex- portation of cloth. To produce the wine in Portugal, might require only the
Background image of page 2
Image of page 3
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 10/05/2010 for the course ECO 322 taught by Professor H during the Fall '08 term at University of Toronto- Toronto.

Page1 / 6

Do Economists Matter - 5 Do Economists Matter? A professor...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 3. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online