Thursday, April 2, 2009

New economics blog

Robert N. Stavins is a professor of Business and Government at Harvard, and he started a blog in February called "An Economic View of the Environment." Since I don't know too much about this subject, I'm going to follow it for a while and see what I can learn.

Stavins got off to an interesting start with a series of posts about myths concerning the way economists think (Mark Thoma pointed to these, which is where I found out about it). He cites four such myths:
  1. Economists believe that the market solves all problems (discussed here)
  2. Economists always recommend simple market solutions for market problems (here)
  3. When non-market solutions are considered, economists use only market prices to evaluate them
  4. Economic analyses are concerned only with efficiency rather than distribution (the last two here)
And as I'm reading these, and thinking that only in a fantasy world are these things myths, Stavins anticipates my feeling:
I want to acknowledge that my profession bears some responsibility for the existence of such misunderstandings about economics. Like our colleagues in the other social and natural sciences, academic economists focus their greatest energies on communicating to their peers within their own discipline. Greater effort can certainly be given by economists to improving communication across disciplinary boundaries. And that is one of my key goals in this blog in the weeks and months ahead.
This is good, but not sufficient. These myths apply to all economists, not just those studying the environment, and the communication needs to get out of the ivory tower. Because, whether non-experts are perpetuating these myths for personal reasons, or economists themselves are misrepresenting their work to fit a political orthodoxy, the reality must be exposed.

Of course, the reality is that economics has few definite answers, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nevertheless, if the profession is to maintain any credibility, it needs to be a lot more realistic about what we can expect from it.

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