Friday, July 07, 2006

On the Blindness of Economists

Having spent some time in graduate school studying economics, it was quite evident that though the dismal science provides some useful analytical tools, the toolbox of the economist is relatively empty. As a group, most of the professional economists I've come across seem to have very little grounding in history, or even a passing curiosity in political institutions, and not the slightest understanding of human nature.

As usual, Steve Sailer has provided a number of insights lately worth pondering.

In response to an open letter on immigration signed by 500 economists, Sailer penned an essay entitled, "Economists On Immigration: What's The Matter?" Economists, says Sailer, aren't "equipped by their training to think hard about the broad range of issues raised by immigration." He's right. Economists tend to simply assume away any and all problems and misapply various "universal" principles. "One apparent side effect of a Ph.D. in economics is the assumption that you can extrapolate from general principles without knowing enough facts to understand which principles apply to this particular situation," writes Sailer.

The immigration issue raises a whole host of concerns related to culture, politics and very idea of nationhood itself that economists seldom think, or even care, about.

Sitting in their ivory towers, writing technical essays for The American Economic Review that can only be understood by eggheads, economists have cut themselves off from the "real world."

Sailer notes that "economists are strikingly oblivious to the obvious in the world around them." He continues:

For example, Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame made himself into a superstar among his fellow economists by arguing that legalizing abortion in the early 1970s cut the crime rate sharply in the mid-1990s. I pointed out to him in Slate.com in 1999 that he had simply failed to notice that, in direct contradiction of his theory, violent crime among teens born right after legalization had soared during 1987-1994. Apparently, none of the prominent economists to whom he presented his theory before its public unveiling had recalled the crack wars, either.

Now, I'm not the world's worldliest man, but I did spend a week in South Florida during that summer of 1980. And even I noticed that in every bar I visited, the locals greeted rapturously a certain annoying Eric Clapton recording, which gave a clue as to why the local economy was booming ...


I lament with Burke: "The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded." Lord help us.

Sailer will apparently have more in a VDARE column tonight. Check it out.

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