Ran across this witty quotation below while reading a chapter in Peter Boettke’s Living Economics. Here is a link for the original source of the quotation, a debate in the Economist between Luigi Zingles and Brad DeLong. Zingales:
Keynesianism has conquered the hearts and minds of politicians and ordinary people alike because it provides a theoretical justification for irresponsible behaviour. Medical science has established that one or two glasses of wine per day are good for your long-term health, but no doctor would recommend a recovering alcoholic to follow this prescription. Unfortunately, Keynesian economists do exactly this. They tell politicians, who are addicted to spending our money, that government expenditures are good. And they tell consumers, who are affected by severe spending problems, that consuming is good, while saving is bad. In medicine, such behaviour would get you expelled from the medical profession; in economics, it gives you a job in Washington.
Milton Friedman argued that there was no such thing as Austrian economics or Chicago economics, just good economics. Does Zingales’ argument suggest that good economics don’t really matter – at least in the short to medium term – to policymakers since they are going to choose the arguments that suit their political needs as long as they can get away with it? If so, does that mean that fellow Chicagoan George Stigler is right that economists have very little real impact on policy or at least that Keynes isn’t fully correct that “even the most practical man of affairs is usually in the thrall of the ideas of some long-dead economist”? If Zingales is right, Keynes seems to give too much credit to economists (and philosophers in other Keynes statements) since Zingales posits that political needs drive the selection of the economic ideas used in policy wars. In that situation, it is hard to imagine that in such instances the ideas have a lot of independent effect but rather serve as props that buttress positions that will be argued regardless.