Sunday, 12 August 2012

Economists and the Real-Life Economy

Every time a crash, or a crisis or recession or any bad news in general comes up, people run to economists to "help" them "understand" what has happened. What most people fail to understand is that, about 99% of economists have no idea what is happening in the real world. The reason is simple: they are so caught up in their studying, publishing articles, using advanced mathematics and statistics to impress other economists with their knowledge that they do not actually know, let alone understand, about what goes on in the real world. 

Thus, their knowledge is purely theoretical. Even what economists call empirical work (i.e. something which actually uses observed data instead of pure mathematical theories) is in fact a manipulation of past data, under statistical tools, to reach a certain point. Very few can leave the stagnant traditional economic thinking and start to think on their own. If one remembers, in a scene of Bryan Singer's Usual Suspects, Kevin Spacey states: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.". In the same context, the greatest trick economists ever pulled was convincing the world that they understood economics.

The worst outcomes of this "misunderstanding" are that:
1. Economists with no idea on how the real world operates are appointed in critical positions in the economy
2. Good economists are mistakenly thought as bad ones, a consequence of bias and prejudices (obviously, if you ask an economist whether he belongs to the 99% or the 1% of economists s/he will  always say he belongs to the 1%)

This situation is described in Esther Dulfo's and Abhijit Banerjee's book, titled Poor Economics. They talk about a situation named the 3 I's: Ideology, Ignorance, Inertia. Although the authors (which I believe deserve to be at the 1% we have talked about earlier) mostly use it in describing politics and policies in third world countries, this situation is more than evident both in the EU as well as the world economy.

People with an ideology try to promote changes or policies (either for better or for worse) and the policies seem to fail, mainly due to their ignorance on the subject, as they are watching it from a distance. The situation, does is not made better due to inertia, i.e. people's "apathy" towards a policy which in essence does nothing.

The same rationale holds for the Greek bailout: economists and policymakers decided that a haircut of 70% of the bonds' value and severe austerity measures should be great to fix the problem. Well, I guess the situation looks better and decisions are easier when its not your job, city or country on the line. Or is it now?

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