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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Economist woes « Previous | |Next »
August 23, 2007

The public face of economists is that of market economists on TV providing economic commentary on the issues of the moment. These talking heads often spell out the implications for the Australian economy of event X, but it is often difficult to understand what they say. Are they actually saying anything of significance? Or are they spruiking for the market institutions?

They appear to be doing a publicity gig for the financial institutions. I guess that makes a change from the economist as a neo-liberal ideologue defending the free market and attacking the social democratic state.

in his op-ed in The Australian Alex Millmow confirms this judgment about financial market economists:

The talking heads on our television screens spell out the implications for the Australian economy, but all these commentators hail from financial institutions rather than academe. Only their voices are heard when it comes to commentary on current economic issues. This has implications for economic policy since these economists are paid to uphold the interests of their employer and the constituency they represent. In contrast, academic economists suffer from a lack of recognition and reach in the media, which biases the promulgation of economic policy options in the broader community.

Millmow, who is a member of the Centre for Alternative Economic Policy Research asks: Are these financial market economists medicine men advising the economy or merely weather men forecasting it? Either way, they are now the major spokespersons of the tribe -- prominent media commentators on the state of the national and global economy, more visible than their academic brothers.

Millmow highlights the shift away from academic expertise. He says that with the high public exposure of financial market economists, the common perception of an economist becomes one who predicts -- and often gets wrong -- future movements in interest rates and who considers the implications that the latest economic statistics will have for the economy and market sentiment. He adds:

Economics as a policy vehicle has also suffered as a result of this move away from academic media input. In terms of the debate of economic policy in the media, academic economists are generally not out there attempting to shape the views of the public on important issues such as budget deficits, interest rates, industry policy, industrial reform, taxation reform or even broader issues of economics like the environment.

Millmow's argument is to make academic economics relevant again through an engagement with the economic issues of the day in Australia via economic media commentary instead of leaving it to the standard journalist perspective of economics and the oracles in the tribe of the financial market economists.

Well the academic economists could go online more than they have done so. Where, for instance, is the blog of the Centre for Alternative Economic Policy Research, which aims to bring 'together people of like mind who are opposed to current neoliberal economic policies - to discuss, formulate and disseminate alternative policies by means of research, meetings, publications, publicity and a website'.

Academics still appear to look at the digital world with disdain or indifference and I'm not persuaded that academic economists, as experts, want to participate it the national conversation. It's too crude, vulgar, uniformed and irrational.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:44 AM | | Comments (8)


Re your comment 'I'm not persuaded that academic economists want to participate it the national conversation.'

If you look at the Centre for Alternative Economic Policy Research website you can see that it has not been updated since 2004. There was a flurry of research activity for a couple of years and then nothing.

These academics made the connection between academic research and public policy but they could not sustain the effort. Too difficult?

It's just not as good for the career as publicly inaccessible scholarly journals.

there is nothing to stop them from putting their first drafts online. How is that going to damage their academic career?

Something is really sick about Australian universities in the digital age. By and large they present a closed wall to the public for all their talk about contributing to public debates and policy formation. Policy formation for them is consultancy work (along the lines of Econtech)and so that is private as well.

I guess if we dug around the universities in Australia we would find good stuff online.

The policy stuff seems to be going on elsewhere---eg., Brotherhood of St Lawrence--which is then supported by a university--in this case Melbourne University. So we have their Social Policy Working Papers series.


I imagine it would take something like the Lancet providing online draft publishing space before the idea would be taken seriously.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world moves on without them. It's such a waste.

the early drafts or rough ideas are not published in the university system---its done outside on another publishing platform in another forum---the public sphere. Why do academics have to develop their ideas behind the clositered walls? Just giving seminars to their peers?

It's being done in the US. Why not Australia? Why the resistance?

The ethos of the Centre for Alternative Economic Policy Research website points to stepping outside academia but they remain content to just give talks at Readings. Why aren't they making their ideas to work by engaging with the public issues? The Brotherhood of St Lawrence Working Papers series really shows them up.

One problem is that economics itself is losing its relevance as a policy discipline in favour of finance. Economic management, particularly under the Rodent Govt., has become little more than keeping the stock market up and interest rates down. These are only indirectly related to economics - the creation and consumption of goods and services.

yes I think that financial markets now dominate what many call the real economy.The hedge funds are an illustration of that dominance or hegemony.