Yesterday, we griped a little bit about how it’s hard for curious readers to find out the truth about complex issues like the economy what with all of the politically polarized commentary flying around from our so-called “noted economists.” Our frustrated criticism was primarily focused at the latest Niall Ferguson vs. Paul Krugman debate over the former’s controversial Newsweek story, and apparently we’re not alone. Another noted economist has stepped forward with an op-ed that condemns his fellow economists for “playing politics,” and calls for a balanced discussion on the contentious issue from politically neutral professionals.
Thank you, Laurence Kotlikoff, for saying what we’ve all been thinking.
In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff points out that some 500 of his colleagues have put their signatures to a statement that supports Mitt Romney’s economic policies unanimously over those of the Obama Administration. According to Kotlikoff, all 500 signatories “owe our profession a sincere apology.”
Slow down. Kotlikoff’s position isn’t a partisan one. According to his argument, he’d be writing the op-ed even if it were the other way around and 500 economists were signing a statement supporting President Obama over Mitt Romney. He’s just pleading with his colleagues to stay out of politics, because when an economist plays politics, it muddies the waters of what should otherwise be complicated and honest debates within the profession.
These 500 signatures aren’t from economic slouches, either. Most hail from the leading ranks in the profession, and five of them are Nobel laureates. “No impartial economist would make such blanket assertions,” he argues. “By their very nature, such statements represent political, not scientific, opinion.”
Noted by Newser, Kotlikoff also singles out oft-cited economists Paul Krugman and Glenn Hubbard for their blatantly left vs. right “op-ed war,” which he argues blurs the lines between economics and politics. “Economic theory isn’t up for grabs. Economic facts aren’t a matter of choice. And the integrity of the economics profession isn’t free for disposal.”
“The worst part of all this is that the new political economics routinely diverges so far from economic theory and fact,” he points out.
In an increasingly soundbyte-infested election, with economists being cited on both sides presenting contradictory and confusing information, Kotlikoff’s indictment of his fellow economists should imply to us all that we should search for impartial economic information on which to build our opinions.