The Role of Experts in Public Debate
Posted on March 18, 2017 by Yves Smith
Yves here. How experts, as in economists, are still wrapping themselves in a mantle of jargon and supposed superior insight to promote policies that screw workers.
Jonathan Portes asks, “What’s the role of experts in the public debate?” He assumes it is his prerogative, as an expert, to define that role:
I think we have three really important functions.
First, to explain our basic concepts and most important insights in plain English. Famously, Paul Samuelson, the founder of modern macroeconomics, was asked whether economics told us anything that was true but not obvious. It took him a couple of years, but eventually he gave an excellent and topical example – simply the theory of comparative advantage.
Similarly, I often say that the most useful thing I did in my 6 years as Chief Economist at DWP was to explain the lump of labour fallacy – that there isn’t a fixed number of jobs in the economy, and increased immigration or more women working adds to both labour demand and labour supply – to six successive Secretaries of State. So that’s the first.
Second is to call bullshit.
O.K. I call bullshit. What Portes explained “to six successive Secretaries of State” was a figment of the imagination of a late 18th century Lancashire magistrate, a self-styled “friend to the poor” who couldn’t understand why poor people got so upset about having their wages cut or losing their jobs — to the extent they would go around throwing rocks through windows, breaking machines and burning down factories — when it was obvious to him that it was all for the best and in the long run we would all be better off… or else dead.twenty likes this
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