R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I guess I must be a Rodney Dangerfield economist.  Because I just don’t get no respect — at least not in some quarters.

It all started with an interesting CBC on-line column from the erstwhile Don Newman: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/01/07/f-vp-newman.html

He was taking Stephen Harper to task for proroguing Parliament.  Among other aguments, he noted that Canada’s economy had serious issues that the government (and Parliament) should be addressing.  He even suggested public hearings where “respected economists” could provide analysis and make policy suggestions.

Who are those “respected economists”?  He listed five for starters (in this order): Don Drummond, Dale Orr, Bill Robson, Mike McCracken, and … last but hopefully not least … yours truly.

First off, I’d say the “broad left” did pretty well by Newman’s generous listing.  Not often do we constitue 40 percent of this beleaguered profession — or at least the “respected” portion thereof.  (I am an unabashed lefty.  Mike McCracken, on the other hand, likes to joke that when he started in the profession in the 1960s — working for the CIA believe it or not — he was actually smack in the middle.  But since then the whole profession has moved so far to the right, he is now considered downright Bolshie in his inclincations!)

The funniest thing, however, is the hissy fit that Newman’s listing set off amongst our good friends over at Worthwhile Canadian Initiatives: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2010/01/canadian-economic-economists-have-to-step-up-to-the-plate.html

Stephen Gordon (whose willingness to engage in fair debate is always commendable) highlighted Newman’s list.  Then, without precisely explaining why, he urged other Canadian economists (presumably those left off Newman’s list) to take action: “I beseech you to make your voices heard.”

Several of his subsequent commentators directed their fire at me (although one very kindly damned me with faint praise by acknowledging that even removing me from the list wouldn’t undermine the validity of Stephen’s initial post!).  One didn’t know who Mike McCracken was (he’s the founder and CEO of Informetrica, Canada’s leading macro forecasting group).  None specifically criticized the other 3 members of Newman’s list.  For example I was labeled a “hack” for unions; no-one mentioned who Bill Robson (President of the C.D.Howe Institute, and another person always willing to engage in fair debate) hacks for.  Several thought that the main problem with Newman’s list was the absence of academic economists.  One acknowledged that academic economists have a very hard time relating their insights to topical issues in understandable language, and that’s why they don’t get on TV much.  (I know from reporters that another problem with academic economists is their failure to quickly return phone calls to reporters.)

At any rate thanks, Don, for the mention.  And I know for a fact that my mom respects me.  I am clearly an economist.  So by definition, therefore, I am a respected economist.  Q.E.D.

3 comments

  • Academic economists do not like trade economists because trade economists are narrowly biased and paid well whereas academic economists are broadly biased and under-paid (vis-a-vis their peers). Hence superior status is supposed to pay for the the lack of pay.

    As for calling you a hack, well that is just the pot calling …..But predictable. They are not much nicer to bank economists over there. Although their preferred think tank, the C.D Howe, is well represented (funded) by finance and banking. Imagine that. Check out the CD Howe’s 2007 commentary on Banking regulation. Quite amusing.

  • If I were don I would change the process to say how about Harper inviting a whole lot more than economists to sit at a table.

    How about labour groups, environmental groups, aboriginal groups, and a few otghers to say the least.

    The economy is broken in many sectors and much more than a few economists sitting around exchanging barbs and historical left -right rhetoric will be required to get us moving forward.

    I seriously think we do need a few major task forces to be created on the economy, but it would be nice to see more than bankers sitting at the tables where some new policy could be created and enacted.

    However under Harper’s watch that will never happen. Don is right to say put up the red flag and note that sitting around with a prorogued parliament waiting for our export markets to mysteriously pick up is a very dangerous way to move forward within a social and economic perspective.

    Given this dragging along the bottom period which merely extends into the next phase- which seems to be deficit cutting will only be leading us back into a double dip.

    We need to have some major task forces set up to look into targeted- sector specific solutions that take into account all stake holder needs- not just the banks and the financial sector.

    I also think a huge task for needs to be set up on our financial sector- we need to find out exactly what occurred within our financial sector during this last downturn, and we need more control over potential financial specutlation, whether it is over our dollar, or housing prices we need to get control of these speculative beasts.

    For all that the banking sector stated that they weathered the storm, I would say that having the dollar roll around from $.70 to over a dollar and then back down again and now headed towards parity- I would think that our financial may have been spared, but at what cost.

    We also had oil, a key component within our economy have its way with our industrial sector, and why did we let the dutch disease reign over us. We could have had some relief for oil prices at least in the sense of smoothing out the variances.

    So we do need some quite large roundtables and more to get at our making policy choices and that which need to to be looked at to help dig our way out of this mess and ensure we build an economy that can manage itself a whole lot more robust than what we have witnessed during this meltdown.

    We cannot do it with just the one dimensional approach that Harper has in store for the economy, which is basically do as little as possible and let the business world figure it out- that is the mentality that got us into this mess.

    Time for change. And ultimately Jim that is at the heart of what Don is getting at I just think RESPECT should be spread a whole lot wider than merely a few economists.

  • I agree Paul, but it is like asking the medieval Church to allow laymen to weigh-in on matters of scriptural interpretation.

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