Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Economics, Economists, and Economic Policy: Modern American Experiences


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Much of federal government policy-making and -implementing is economic in matter and repercussion. But most policy decisions are made ultimately by non-economists. There are many economists in government, some of them seasoned government careerists and some on leave from universities. But what is their actual role? What do economists in seemingly significant positions in government do and how do they do it? Under what circumstances and subject to what constraints do they work? How useful is the economist’s training? How sophisticated, how formal, is the analysis upon which they frame their thinking on the issues they deal with? How great is their impact in policy determination? How might the role of economists be better performed? This survey and evaluation is based on candid interviews, from 1972 to 1976, of some sixty well-placed economists who were, or had been, in government. If there is a moral to the story, it may be that the policy process is and inevitably will be far coarser and more compromised in its adherence to sound elemental economics than innocent souls would ever imagine.