March, 2014

The Social Responsibility of Economists

  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Kyle O'Donnell

    Research Analyst, Charles Koch Foundation
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Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the economics profession has been criticized for its apparent complicity in promoting corporate and financial industry interests at the expense of the public interest, resulting in increased scrutiny of its ethics. We argue that the only social responsibility of economists is to maximize their career advancement within their scientific community, and the appropriate target for criticism and reform is the institutional framework of that community. Rather than “good” scientists, good rules of scientific engagement for ongoing contestation of ideas through open, critical discourse are required. The true source of corruption is not corporate and special interests but the state’s capture and politicization of the discipline. A code of conduct would be an ineffective solution and largely irrelevant to the economics profession. A radical humility in economics would reduce opportunities for corruption and limit potential harm from the economist qua social engineer.