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Thursday, December 7, 2006
Economics without punch
Here is a good illustration of the problem I have with economics and economists in the current political climate. It's an interview with David Card, a talented and prize-winning young economist at the University of California, Berkeley whose findings are said to be "at odds with conventional wisdom." Great, you think, a breath of fresh air in a musty field. But listen to this:
I think economists who objected to our work [on the negligible effects of raising the minimum wage] were upset by the thought that we were giving free rein to people who wanted to set wages everywhere at any possible level. And that wasn't at all the spirit of what we actually said. In fact, nowhere in the book or in other writing did I ever propose raising the minimum wage. I try to stay out of political arguments.
Now, I can understand not wanting to appear as though your research-driven work is being driven by a top-down agenda. That hurts your reputation. But I have to wonder a little why you'd want to be an economist if you were likely to have zero effect on economic policy. What's your goal? To have people nod their heads and say, "Hm, that's interesting"?
The late Milton Friedman wanted his theories to propagate into the world, and so did the other titans. Why avoid trying for that sort of stature? Otherwise your work is academic, in both senses.