From a post on Facebook:
More than ever I am convinced that the professional study of economics peaked in the classical liberal era with John Stuart Mill and rapidly became a mostly destructive force in society thereafter. What was once an area of inquiry dedicated to counteracting intuitive-yet-bad ideas has overwhelmingly devolved into a pseudo-scientific industry of naval-gazing in support for some of the worst fallacies these classical thinkers devoted their lives to refuting, such as utterly absurd claims like “consumption increases output”.
My current theory for why this has occurred is that the classical thinkers were a diverse group with many of them devoting their lives to actual value creation for other people through commerce and most of them multi-disciplinary polymaths. They had an integrated view of the world that was rich and realistic. All of that has been sandblasted into oblivion. This seems to be the result of the mathematization and hyper faux-specialization of the “economics profession”, combined with the fact that most employment opportunities for economists are in academia (where the real world is irrelevant) or government directly (same problem, worse incentives).
If you want to glimpse economics from the inside, read Miles Kimball on three goals for Ph.D courses.
My instinct is that the profession is not as bad as Papola portrays it, although I have sympathy with where he is coming from.
1. I see strong gains in economic history, understanding the causes and consequences of economic growth, finance theory, mechanism design, game theory, and other areas. Yes, there is over-hyping, but I believe that the progress is genuine.
2. In academic economics, the emphasis is on “tools,” meaning mathematical techniques. This crowds out thinking either about deep philosophical issues or the real world. I wish that philosophical rigor were emphasized as much as mathematical rigor. In terms of the real world, what troubles me most about economists’ mindset is the failure to appreciate the importance of conflict within organizations and radical ignorance/uncertainty.
3. Macro is a disaster area. I have said before that it ought to be relegated to a “history of thought” course, rather than given equal billing with micro. But hardly anything else in economics is as bad as macro.
4. For a long time, applied econometrics was a disaster area. What Angrist calls the “credibility revolution” has helped, I think, although again there is over-hyping.
5. I have said before that I think that the economics profession is far too heavily influenced by a few “top” departments. I do not know how much worse things are in economics than in other disciplines. But in economics, the control that MIT, Chicago, and Harvard exert is so strong that they can pull several generations of economists in the wrong direction. Tyler Cowen cites relevant data and remarks,
It has been evident for a while that the former “top six” is in some ways collapsing into a “top two,” namely Harvard and MIT.
It is a self-perpetuating, in-bred, smug, narrow guild. I do not know what to do about it.