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Unformatted text preview: [Note to reader: T he following article was publis hed in Challenge: T he Magazine of Economic Affairs , S ept/Oct 1998, pp 113-120. Copyright M.E. S harpe, I nc. T he present text is very clos e to the publis hed vers ion.] W ho I s t he P r act it ioner of P olit ical E conomy? by Daniel B. Klein Associate Professor of Economics S anta Clara University, S anta Clara, CA 95053 [email protected] Acknowledgement : T he author thanks Henry Demmert for valuable comments. I . I NT R ODUCT I ON T he ordinary person makes decisions everyday that are important to maintaining his health. But those decisions are familiar and routine. For new decisions, important decisions, he would usually appoint a doctor to the task. T he practice of serious medicine is the province of the doctor, just as the practice of architectural safety is the province of the engineer, and food safety the province of chemists and pharmacologists. I n these fields, the practitioner is a specialized expert. Even when the ordinary individual takes on these decisions himself, he does so after gaining some pointed knowledge of his particular condition and, in a meaningful sense, becomes a narrow sort of expert. (A Yiddish proverb says: "Don't ask the doctor, ask the patient.") Who makes the important decisions in political economy? Unlike what is the case for medicine, engineering, and other technical fields, it is not the trained expert. T he practitioner of political economy is not the professor of economics. Rather, it is every public official and ordinary voter -- the Everyman (which of course includes every woman). T he Everyman makes not only the minor and routine decisions of public policy, but also the great and awful decisions. Economists have no particular power in this process. Does it makes sense for the discipline of political economy to be fashioned a science in the manner of biology and physics when the actual practitioner of the discipline is not an expert? I I . T HE GR EAT FAI T H OF MANY ACADEMI C ECONOMI S T S Academic economists have not improved the practice of political economy as much as they might. T hey neglect talking to the practitioner. By talking too exclusively to themselves, economists on the whole have left the practitioner stranded in darkness. I n talking too exclusively to themselves, academic economists have come to create their own concerns. T he concerns are the establishing and Page 1 of 5 Who Is the Practitioner of Political Economy? 2/18/04 http://lsb.scu.edu/~dklein/papers/practitioner.html maintaining of a set of professional standards for legitimacy in research. Academic affairs call for a set of standards which can, relative to other possible standards, be applied like a rubber stamp, to reduce vexing internecine conflict over every orals examination, job candidate, or tenure case. Without common standards and values, an academic community is not a community. T he profession has adopted certain modes of discourse which serve the communal and institutional needs. T he two dominant which serve the communal and institutional needs....
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