All of this links into broader questions about the way economic analysis is framed, assumptions made and conclusions drawn. Its the same can of worms because what ultimately matters is the quality of the argument, not the funder. In highly contentious settings like court cases, quality of argument is what counts. But a lot of policy advice does not have this wonderful attribute, and indeed there can sometimes be a strong demand from bureaucrats & politicians for the ‘wrong answer’. In such cases, supply is pretty likely and you can’t always tell whether the supplier is actively pandering to demand or just a bit hopeless.[emphasis added]Small nails this one. Thin markets mean that rubbish analysis often is let to stand: there's little market in taking sledgehammers to things like the PriceWaterhouse Coopers report on Adult and Continuing Education. Who'd fund it? And who has the time to do it for free? It's obviously completely shonky. But folks who find its numbers politically convenient keep citing it.
I’ve tried a few times, without success, to think up a workable review system that would catch such things. Ultimately, the problems are (a) a very thin market for professional economists and (b) the existence of a demand for rubbish. If you want a silly plan blessed by someone that calls themselves an economist, you’ll probably be able to achieve that aim. The way this problem is solved in other professions (medicine, law, accounting) is through professional societies that have disciplinary functions and, most importantly, barriers to entry. [emphasis added]
Maybe there is another way, but I can’t see a code of conduct having any real effect without some kind of big stick to back it up. Expulsion to the other side of the entry barrier is how other professions do it, but they have more members and more homogeneity of work, so they are more easily able to stand the fixed costs of such a system. Plus the idea of deliberately erecting a barrier to entry might not sit well with your average economist.
And pretty much anybody here can call himself an economist. Without compiling any lists, it's surprising the thin level of qualifications of all kinds of media-prominent economists. Chief Economist for X may only have a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics. But he's still cited as Chief Economist for X whenever quoted on radio. Not that having a Masters or PhD stops you from being an idiot either - it just improves the odds. We're well past the days where folks like Marshall, Keynes, Hicks, Coase and Tullock typified the non-PhD economist.
The best we can perhaps hope for is that the New Zealand Association of Economists start providing a paid refereeing service for consultancy reports.