David Blackburn

How much attention should politicians pay the competing groups of economists?

How much attention should politicians pay the competing groups of economists?
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The recession has been intellectually thrilling, and I write that without a note of sarcasm. First, politicians argued as to whose understanding of Keynes was greatest; and now they’re in Keynes versus Hayek territory, over the timing and depth of cuts. The Chancellor and his Shadow have marshalled the various authorities who support their respective cases.

The science of economics, if it is science, is in its adolescence. Should necessarily equivalent government policy be detirmined by pure intellectual opinions and reputations, especially as those are being forged for posterity by current events? Economics is as much history as science - like Coleridge’s lantern on the stern of the ship; it illuminates the waters through which we have sailed. As Keynes wrote: ‘Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist’. Keynes could well be that defunct economist, but future academic study of the effects of current policy will establish that.

Evan Davis has it right with this tweet:

‘On economists and deficit reduction: it's futile, I'd say, to argue one group of letter-writers trumps the other. Both sides are v. credible.’

An argument that is confirmed by the more human aspect of seeing your life’s work being torn to shreds on a global stage, brilliantly exposed by Stephanie Flanders:

‘I asked one of today's letter-writers whether they felt the debate would be enhanced by exaggerating the differences of opinion that exist on this crucial issue of public concern. His reply, in so many words, was "they started it".’