Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Demand for Economist Writers Exceeds Supply

Plaintive piece in The Guardian by Heather Long about the alleged absence of economists writing in the UK media compared to their alleged proliferation in the USA:

“Krugman is not the only economist in the US to have achieved celebrity status. America is full of economic "personalities" these days. Steven Levitt's economic tome Freakonomics is second on the New York Times bestseller list. Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Gary Becker publish comment pieces almost weekly and Stephen Landsburg writes an Everyday Economics column for Slate magazine.

But on this side of the pond, economists, particularly academic economists, remain hidden in their ivory towers. They are neither household names nor a significant presence in newspaper commentary pages. How strange for a country that produced the most famous economists of all time: Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Maynard Keynes.”

Heather misses the Blogosphere, where there are many economists writing almost daily on both sides of the Pond. She missed Brad De Long’s semi-daily Blog which is excellent value and ‘Division of Labour’ (USA). There are our own Tim Harford in the FT (‘Dear Economist’, an absolutely funny and entertaining column of ‘knock out’ quality) and another Tim, Tim Worsthall, who has a strong following and talks a lot of sense.

Heather shows her innocent naiveté of the history of economics, by referring to economics as the ‘dismal science three times in two paragraphs:

“There are those who would say America does not benefit from having so many vociferous "dismal scientists". Economists, however, provide a very necessary service to society: they can offer long-term views that are not biased by the short-termism of the government or the media. And economics is more than a dismal science.

At its core it is a philosophy, an extremely practical way of viewing the world. Economists believe people, business and governments are rational agents who make decisions by weighing costs and benefits. Whether you call it dismal or distinctive, economists have a different way of looking at the world, and we could use more of this thinking.”

Heather should know that the origins of the label ‘dismal science’ are from Thomas Carlyle who denounced John S. Mill’s views that black plantation workers in the Caribbean were the same as whites in Europe and all people on Earth were equally capable within the same range as each other. They were not born to slavery they were forced into it.


This upset the deeply racist Carlyle to the extent that he published a blistering reply, as was his want, vividly denouncing J. S. Mill (and NOT Thomas Malthus, as is usually asserted) for his ‘absurd’ notions of mankind’s basic equality.

Carlyle’s 1849 pamphlet was entitled “An Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question” which gives an idea of its tone (later editions were changed to ‘Negro Question’) in which Carlyle advocated a return of slavery to Jamaica.

Perhaps some economist in the UK should write a piece on the origins of the 'dismal science' for Heather Long and Guardian readers?

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