Rodrik (Economics and Social Sciences/Princeton Institute For Advanced Studies; The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, 2011, etc.) challenges both his professional colleagues and broader public opinion regarding his much-maligned field.
The author believes that economists have “none other than themselves to blame” for the widespread criticism of their competence. His account of the failures of the profession prior to the 2008 recession is spot-on, and his history of the post–World War II Bretton Woods agreements provides useful background information for his arguments. Rodrik sees the field as one that “excel[s] at contingent explanations of social life,” and he takes issue with the idea that there can be any one particular theory, or model, about economic phenomena that is uniquely right, to the exclusion of all other concepts. As the author notes, economists should focus on what their profession can do and keep their own views about political issues out of their considerations. While “economists can provide useful input,” going further often results in a situation of “malpractice.” Noneconomists tend to judge economists by their predictions of market trends. During his presidency, writes the author, Harry Truman, “frustrated by the conflicting and hedged advice he was receiving from his advisers, was “said to have asked for a ‘one-handed economist.’ ” Rodrik insists that the strengths of economics are what most people, following Truman, say are its weaknesses. In arguing for the profession to both highlight the useful work economists are doing—e.g. Jean Tirole's recent Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on the regulation of industry—while being a bit humbler about it, he is also pointing out the misconceptions of noneconomists. He believes economists who stay silent ought to speak out.
A hopeful contribution to the reconstitution of a profession whose reputation has been seriously damaged, both fairly and unfairly.