Economists have a hive mind?

Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute has an op-ed in The Conversation talking about the need to recruit more women into the economics profession – as opposed to having (more) women study economics and then use the disciple as a tool for some other purpose. Mind you, her argument is a bit confused as she seems to employ a very broad definition of what is an economist. For example, she looks at the gender ratio of AFR op-ed columnists over the last six months – but there is no reason to believe that only economists write op-eds for the AFR. She invokes RBA governor Philip Lowe as an example of a senior economist – but while he has an economics education he is actually a banker (or a bureaucrat if you prefer).

Nonetheless there is a wide gender imbalance amongst economists tending to be more male than female (my perception is that the imbalance has reduced over time).

What struck me though was this line:

Too many “like” individuals reduces the range of perspectives informing decisions. 

What? Economists are like-minded because they are predominately male? The first reaction wold be argue that economists are like-minded because they share a common disciplinary base. But, of course, economists are not really like minded at all.  Step up Ken Henry – admittedly a male  (not that I want to assume his gender or anything, but I have no reason to believe that he identifies as anything other than male):

THE Treasury chief, Ken Henry, has re-entered the tax debate, issuing an extraordinary call for economists and tax experts to ”put down their weapons” and get behind proposals such as the resources super profits tax.

Briefly interrupting an overseas holiday to address a conference in Sydney on the outcome of the tax review he led, he said it was ”unbelievably frustrating, incredibly frustrating” for people advising governments of both stripes that economists seemed ”loath to come to a consensus position on anything”.

”Whenever an idea is ventured publicly by a person, whether that person is a policy adviser or whether it’s a government minister, there’s at least a handful of academics who will contest it,” he said.

Anyone who has ever attended an economics seminar would find the notion that economists are like-minded quite astonishing.

Then there is the headline (admittedly the headline was probably written by the editor):

Women are dropping out of economics, which means men are running our economy

While the notion of anyone running the economy is a silly idea, I’m happy to admit that the bulk of business decisions made in Australia are made by men and not women. But it isn’t clear to me that economists are making those decisions (be they male or female).  On the other hand, to the extent that women are consumers they are making the bulk of economic decisions made in the economy. Step up (another male) Ludwig von Mises:

The real bosses, in the capitalist system of market economy, are the consumers. They, by their buying and by their abstention from buying, decide who should own the capital and run the plants. They determine what should be produced and in what quantity and quality.

Consumers, not economists, “run the economy”.

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31 Responses to Economists have a hive mind?

  1. stackja

    Consumers, not economists, “run the economy”.

    My family going back over a century was never influenced by economists.

  2. Empire GTHO Phase III

    Consumers, not economists, “run the economy”.

    More ideal state than fact. With the current level of state interference (price fixing, regulation and outright bullshit), consumer preferences are frequently opaque.

  3. .

    THE Treasury chief, Ken Henry, has re-entered the tax debate, issuing an extraordinary call for economists and tax experts to ”put down their weapons” and get behind proposals such as the resources super profits tax.

    Ken. Can you shut up and retire, permanently? I don’t want to tax Australia out of comparative advantage.

    My family going back over a century was never influenced by economists.

    You couldn’t say that in America. The US Fed is influential; Vockler put the boot into inflation and Greenspan’s “great moderation” possibly caused the GFC in part.

  4. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Change ‘running our economy’ to ‘ruining our economy’, and everything is explained! When you consider how close n and i are on the keyboard, I’m surprised the mistake isn’t made more often.

  5. Pyrmonter

    But Sinclair, “identity” is destiny – just check the Open Forum …

  6. Ray

    The real question we should be asking is why economists make up so few of the parliamentarians in this country and why Prime Ministers are so much more comfortable in having ex lawyers as Treasurer rather than economists. And while we are at it, why is it that Treasury hires more non-economists than economists these days?

  7. Phill

    Consumers, not economists, “run the economy”?

    True enough, but economists, politicians, and bureaucrats tinker, meddle, and generally “pull the levers” wherever they can. That is driven mainly by ideology, by their visions of how things should be, rather than how they are.

    It seems to me that the “big guns” in the economics world are those who lay their foundations on (often unspoken) assumptions that marxism, globalism and so on are a done deal. The result is that the opinions found in the mainly lefty press are from that class of economist. Hence, the “hive mind” complaint seems valid to me.

  8. Trader Perth

    ‘Briefly interrupting an overseas holiday to address a conference in Sydney ‘….next time he leaves Aust. cancel his passport.

  9. Muddy

    I cannot understand why we haven’t seen a reality TV show about the economics profession yet. Perhaps “The Real Economists of Monash?”

  10. .

    You no you ain’t got no respect and no regards either when your tickets/fees to see the woeful Ross Gittens paid for by your corporate employer were mysteriously “never booked” and when you get back to your office, the secretary shows the bank EFT payments.

    …and that’s a true story.

  11. Roger

    The dearth of women in leadership positions raises a red flag for the quality of Australia’s economic decision-making.

    Australia’s economic decision making is woeful, but why would women in leadership positions improve it?

    Surely what is needed is a sounder theoretical base from which economic decisions are made. Do women have any articular gift in that area? No.

  12. Rococo Liberal

    The left-wing insistence that somehow all members of a group think alike is one of the great idiocies of the last 50 years.

  13. DrBeauGan

    Ken Henry has a mediocre mind and little knowledge. If he were only ten percent smarter he’d realise how dumb he is and would shut up. If he knew twenty percent more he’d know how ignorant he is and would shut up. Alas, neither is the case.

  14. Rebel with cause

    This kind of identity politics garbage is getting tiresome.

  15. H B Bear

    Teh Grattan Institute is giving The Ponds Institute a real run for its money. Will competition raise the quality of their thinking or is it a race to the bottom?

    Of course the Lucy Institute will always have a willing media partner in their ALPBC who seem to run anything they come up with as a leading item of “news”.

  16. Cui bono

    Just another whingeing point from the trendies.
    They have millions more.

  17. C.L.

    Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute has an op-ed in The Conversation talking about the need to recruit more women into the economics profession.

  18. Gavin R Putland

    Consumers… “run the economy”.

    Which constrains the interpretation of Say’s law, and vice versa. And don’t get me started on where the rentseekers fit in. 🙂

  19. Helen

    As a consumer, I would love to be able to ‘boss’ the market as much as economists (and lawyers). For example I would like to buy some Australian gas in Australia. But its seems that I would have to go to Japan and buy Australian gas there to get it cheaper than I can buy it in Australia. I suspect some economist or lawyer or both told the global gas companies that they could make more money by selling Australian gas cheaper to Japan than to Australia.
    So remind me again, how as a consumer can I boss the market?
    (Actually you’re probably right – Australians are taking control by going solar and off-grid, though that’s not really an option for poor people or those who don’t own their own home ).

  20. Helen

    Stackja: ‘My family going back over a century was never influenced by economists.’
    If your family has ever bought a house, a car, shares, ridden on public transport, shopped, been to a doctor, it has been influenced by economists who guide the government on interest rates, petrol taxes etc. and have a big effect on the share market, all of which has a knock on effect on the price of everything.
    Just because you didn’t notice …

  21. Gavin R Putland

    Oops, Helen just got started on the rentseekers, who get to boss the market as consumers, producers, economists, lawyers, and any other roles they can buy their way into.

  22. Pyrmonter

    I propose Judith Sloan for Economics Tsarina.

    Might not be quite what Danielle had in mind though.

  23. Stimpson J. Cat

    I wouldn’t consider a hive made up of drones as possessing what we would consider a mind.
    A more interesting question is who is the economics queen?

  24. .

    For example I would like to buy some Australian gas in Australia. But its seems that I would have to go to Japan and buy Australian gas there to get it cheaper than I can buy it in Australia

    Go Helen! Spend 5k on airfares to buy three months of cheap off-peak water heating.

  25. Eyrie

    Voodoo “sciences” like economics should be banned. They are clearly harmful.

  26. King Koala

    Economists have a hive mind?

    Yes, next question

  27. Andrew

    Henry identifies as a wombasexual.

  28. Des Deskperson

    Too many “like” individuals reduces the range of perspectives informing decisions.

    That idea that increasing ethnic, gender and ‘ability’ ‘diversity in any field or sector is not only fairer and enhances credibility in a multicultural society but also leads to better decision making, was a mantra back in the APS about 20 years ago.

    It’s an example of ‘plausible wishful thinking’. On the one hand, it seems a not unreasonable proposition that bringing people of different backgrounds and perspectives – including members of groups who have suffered disadvantage – would broaden inputs into and therefore strengthen decision making.

    On the other hand, there is no plausible evidence anywhere that it actually works.

  29. Muddy

    On the other hand, there is no plausible evidence anywhere that it actually works.

    Off topic, sorry, but I often wonder if there is any evidence that the billions spent on public edjamahkayshun campaigns has positively affected the outcome of a particular issue. Are there ever any attempts to measure the return on investment?

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