Thursday, 29 March 2012

Economists and the Crisis: a story of denial and opportunism

It is now generally understood that our present economic crisis was not caused by external factors but by dynamics internal to the system. Economists as a profession - in academia, government, international institutions, and the financial industry - failed to grasp the fundamental instability of the system they are all, in one way or another, paid as experts to understand and help us master. Furthermore they have largely failed to predict each iteration of the crisis as it has mutated from investment bank liquidity crunch to general financial sector insolvency, to a credit crisis on main street, to an economic recession on everyone’s street, to a threat to government solvency and the international political crisis in the Eurozone. This is not only because prediction is very difficult in social sciences, but because the situation in the real economy has fallen outside orthodox (neo-classical) economics’ standard models and theories (which excluded such extraneous elements as the banking system). Their theoretical expertise has been painfully irrelevant throughout the crisis, and we have been saved from a second Great Depression rather by the informal arts of political economy than by economic theory per se. 

It is not only the economy, but also the study of the economy which is in crisis. How have economists responded? A mixture of denial and opportunism.