When is an economist not an economist?

According to the Observer, “100 leading economists tell George Osborne: we must turn to plan B.” The article explains:

In a letter to the Observer, the umbrella group of distinguished experts from across the country argue that the chancellor must rethink his strategy and enact emergency measures to kickstart growth and save the UK from growing unemployment and a further fall in living standards.

These so called “distinguished experts” and “leading economists” include,  as noted by Paul Goodman at Conservative Home, the following:

  • Dr Martin O’Neill, lecturer in political philosophy, York University
  • Dr David Hall-Matthews, senior lecturer in international development, University of Leeds
  • Kitty Ussher, associate, Demos
  • Dr Jamie Gough, department of town and regional planning, University of Sheffield
  • John Christensen, economic adviser and director, Tax Justice Network, London

Goodman reasonably points out:

I apologise to these ladies and gentlemen if they are indeed “leading economists”, but matching their names to their roles leaves this title doubtful.

I can add that when we look at the list of signatories, it seems that virtually all of them are from the academic world. Some are not, but notably absent are any economists working for any investment banks or large fund management companies. This is a real shame, but it is not surprising.

One cannot be a medical doctor without having trained in a hospital. A doctor isn’t someone who just read books and then obtains a qualification to perform open heart surgery. Likewise, no-one becomes a qualified lawyer or Chartered Accountant without proper training with recognised firms in the field. Yet, a PhD in economics seems sufficient for someone to call himself an economist. Now, I am not doubting the academic qualifications of the signatories to the letter or their prowess in academic economics. I am sure, for example, that Prof Rick van der Ploeg, a signatory to the letter, knows things about economics that I have not even contemplated, let alone studied.  But I do question whether they have really thought through the proposal in their letter which suggests the introduction of the financial transaction tax (FTT).

Dr. Ha-Joon Chang is a prime mover behind this letter. I have previously criticised his support for the FTT.  As I have explained, if the FTT is implemented, the City of London will be crushed. This will not just harm the City, it will harm the whole country.

This tax may we well intentioned; but the road to financial ruin is paved with the good intentions of academic economists. And non-economists.

Hat Tip: Paul Goodman via Robert Halfon MP


This article is written by the author in a personal capacity and the views expressed, which are his personal views, are not necessarily the views of any organisations with which he is associated.