Continuing an on-off debate on these pages (entry point here) about the quality, or otherwise, of the economics profession, I refer interested readers to the economic program written for US presidential candidate Romney by a number of leading American economists, and to the reaction it has provoked on the part of some of their colleagues.
The program (here) was written by four academic economists, at least two of which (Mankiw and Taylor) must be counted amongst the cream of the profession across the water and indeed globally. Mankiw’s textbooks top the global best-selling lists in the field.
Two left-of-centre and also well-reputed American economists, Paul Krugman (‘culture of fraud‘) and Brad Delong (whose finds incorrectness, falsehoods and lies) consider the proposal is not only wrong in economic policy terms – no surprise there – but intellectually dishonest. Brit Simon Wren-Lewis agrees, saying the authors ‘give economics a bad name‘.
Meanwhile some 400 US economists (including 5 Nobel prizewinners) have declared themselves Economists Supporting Mitt Romney for President.
I won’t comment on the specifics of the proposal or the critiques (yes, my sympathies lie with the latter), but rather ask what one might make of this debate from the perspective of Europe and European economics.
It would certainly be unusual in Europe, at least in the countries I know, for academic economists to ally themselves party-politically in such a clear fashion. Europe has not been short of its economists’ manifestos but they have tended to be in support of a broad policy agenda of one form or another, not an individual candidate. If economists advise parties and presidents they tend to do so behind the scenes or issue public reports which, though, are couched in much more technocratic terms.
Second, don’t be blinded by the prominent names, the Nobels and the three-digit number of Romney supporter-economists. The US has a lot of high-profile economists. I don’t know if there will be an equivalent list of avowed economist Obama fans, but it would certainly include at least four US Nobelists (Krugman, Stiglitz, Akerlof and Solow) and, I am sure, a large number of other prominent members of the discipline on the other side of the pond. This is another difference to Europe, I believe. Most notably in Germany, but also in many other European countries and ‘Europe’ as a whole (i.e. Brussels and Frankfurt), being a ‘serious’ economist has for a long time been virtually synonymous with being of the political Right and espousing economic liberalism. I still hold out hopes that this might change in the light of the crisis, but still the number of avowedly left-of-centre economists is relatively small and, supporting heterodox theoretical positions, are largely separate from the mainstream. In contrast, in the US politically leftist economists are often very orthodox in terms of economic theory (Krugman being the most obvious example). The political vitriol is not matched by any major theoretical divide.
I am not sure that I have good explanations for these phenomena. Probably the specifics of US politics (and especially the state of the Republican party) play a role. Perhaps the role of professionalised and (in theory) non-partisan civil services in Europe in contrast to the fluid ‘job market’ for administration advisers and officials in Washinton DC? Any ideas?