Wednesday 18 July 2012

Economic Dilettantism

Bill Kaye-Blake takes a Rothbardian turn!*

Rothbard wrote:
“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” 
Bill takes on the disappointing proclivity of New Zealand's bench scientists to opine on economics.
In the June issue of AgScience, Prof Shaun Hendy has an article entitled, ‘New Zealand’s voyage of economic self-discovery’. He also has a post with the same title over a Sciblogs. Before I get too wound up, I should give Prof Hendy his dues. He does do fieldwork amongst economists in their native habitat. But in the end, it is dilettantism.
The article sounds impressive — we have a new approach! we have pretty pictures! Nokia! But really, what he is able to tell us is:
  • New Zealand is small and distant
  • its economy is based on what has worked in the past
  • scale is important
  • we should be more productive.
He isn’t telling us anything new. No, really, there is nothing new there. And what is there is either useless or confused.
Bill goes on, citing underpants-gnome theories. He concludes:
But then I’m just an economist. Maybe Prof Hendy would like to hear my thoughts on the Higgs boson. After all, I’ve been watching The Big Bang Theory.
While I agree with Bill, I'm somewhat less annoyed by the Hendy piece's content than he is; the bits from the article that aren't new aren't useless either. It's worth emphasizing that a fair bit of New Zealand's lagging performance comes from being small and distant rather from particular policy failures. We can always do better, but there aren't a whole ton of low-hanging policy fruit around waiting to be picked. Land use policy, the RMA, and immigration would be the first places I'd look for gains. But it would be pretty optimistic to expect large or quick improvements from any of them.

* The position is hardly unique to Rothbard; he just said it well. But I do think it's fun to paint Bill as agreeing with Rothbard.


  1. Ha ha ha! I'll take my compliments where I find them!

  2. I think economists, will suffer the bankers fraud, and I mean this sincerely.
    People ignorant like me think Economist is Banker talk for money in the mist, as in econ .. mist in the air..Banker fraud, we can blame it on you, all that money and all that bad;I think you will be out in the same boat,and you are going to take a hiding, and I think you will have to fight your way out,So while you are out in the boat lets see you bring some fish back to shore so we can think well of you again ,we can throw the bankers into the sea to drown, and if they do not drown we will tie concrete around their is getting harder and more difficult to write on your column Eric, soon you are like Farrar, only accolytes may enter.