Modern Economists: The Inept Firefighters’ Club

The problem is with the behavior and the incentive structure of the practitioners. There is overwhelming pressure to produce work that supports the status quo (i.e. redistributing to the rich), that doesn’t question authority, and that is needlessly complex. The result is a discipline in which much of the work is of little use, except to legitimate the existing power structure.

.. When I tried to raise these issues in years prior to the crash, my arguments were largely laughed off by a wide range of economists. I didn’t have the stature, and besides, the argument was far too simple.

.. I pointed out that his Administration’s assumed rates of return in the stock market were impossible given the current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios in the market and the economic growth rates assumed by the Social Security trustees. This was an argument based on simple algebra.

..  it was necessary to have something more complex than simple algebra to be taken seriously at Brookings.

.. And how about a little accountability for economists when they mess up? There is a large literature on the importance of being able to dismiss workers who do not perform their jobs well. We all know and expect that a dishwasher who keeps breaking the dishes or a custodian who can’t clean the toilets loses his job.

.. I have suggested that economists who prescribe policies that turn out badly, or who can’t see multi-trillion dollar housing bubbles coming whose collapse sinks the economy, ought to pay a price in terms of their careers. Invariably people think I am joking. When they realize I am serious, they think I am crazy or vindictive.