What's Wrong with Economists

Justin Wolfers asks:

You probably recall Hillary Clinton turning anti-economist in the dying days of her campaign:

"Well I'll tell you what, I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."

And more recently John McCain has jumped aboard:

"I trust the people and not the so-called economists to give the American people a little relief."

Honestly, I don't get it.

There is a very simple answer here.  Economists are people who say that you can't have your cake and eat it too.  As this is the core of the politician's populist message, they don't want anyone calling their bluff.

More on not wanting to hear the science here.

Update: One other thought, vis a vis climate and economics.  Obama, I suppose, would be one to argue that the science of catastrophic global warming is "settled."  But does he really think it is more settled than, say, the science that free trade leads to general increases in prosperity?  The left is all for the sanctity of science, except in economics.


  1. CRC:

    Or even that that the idea that demand curves slope down is pretty much settled.

    I find that most errors in economic thinking derive from not really believing that to be true.

  2. bbartlog:

    I get the feeling that politicians resent economists because they remind them of the limits of their power.
    Politician: 'Gas prices are too high and people are complaining? Well, let's just fix the price of gasoline!'
    Economist: 'No, that will just cause shortages. And if you don't believe the theory, remember we tried that back in the 70s and the theory was correct.'.
    Politician: 'Huh. Well, if all this money is being spent on gas, at least I think I should spend the profits, rather than have them go to Evil Corporations. I'll create a Windfall Profits Tax!'.
    Economist: 'OK, but I have to remind people that you're going to discourage future energy development by taking this money. You'll just perpetuate high prices. Also I think you'll annoy several million shareholders in these companies...'
    Politician: 'Well, OK. Tell you what: I'll sacrifice some tax revenues and offer a gas tax holiday. If we stop collecting the $0.20 per gallon tax, that oughta knock $0.20 of the price of gas, right? I'd rather raise taxes, but this way I can be popular and just force someone else to raise taxes later...'
    Economist: 'Well, actually, it's complicated... supply looks really inelastic right now, I don't think the price will fall much at all from this tax holiday... but at least it's the opposite of our other idea. I think it will cause prices to fall in the future, is that good enough for you?'
    Politician: 'Damn it, I want the prices to come down now! How can I make that happen?'
    Economist: 'You can't, unless you can magically create millions of gallons of gasoline.'
    Politician: 'Economist, you can only ever tell me about why I can't do things or why they'll bite me in the ass. I'm not going to listen to you any more because you're such a naysayer. (sticks fingers in ears and starts singing to himself).'

  3. Miklos Hollender:

    Great example, bbartlog. Actually if we think deeper into it, it discredits the whole idea of democracy: governments can only make things worse, the best thing is to do nothing, but no one ever will get elected for promising to do nothing. Time to find a suitable monarch :-)))

  4. bobby b:

    "Economists are people who say that you can't have your cake and eat it too."

    I've apparently been watching the wrong economists. The ones I've seen have said that you can eat your cake, but it might make you fatter, or thinner, or not, or that the cake is really just the unsupported perception of cake driven by an unnatural cake bubble, and that if the cake fails to make us fatter or thinner, we'll have used up one of a limited number of "prime the pump" options to no gain, or maybe to some gain, or lots of gain. Probably. Unless this is wrong.

    And econ was one of my majors.