Take, for instance, the current spat between Paul Krugman and John Taylor. Both extremely well educated and intelligent economists who have very different interpretations of the recent increase in government spending….
Two grown up and highly educate economists adding very little to anything except to display their respective ideological views. Both right in their own way. Both wrong in others.
…The point is this: economics is a giant mess. Economists know this. They excuse themselves by saying that it has always been this way, and that scholarly disagreements are the stuff of academic progress. From this hurly-burly springs forth new ideas and thus a greater contribution to society. So they say.
As DeLong points out, this argument is going nowhere. Indeed it seems to be preventing progress. It has simply devolved into an ideological spat. And is making economists appear useless. There is an economist to defend any hair-brained policy proposal. Anything a politician cares to suggest can be given a well argued, and reasonable defense by a well respected and tenured professor from somewhere.
And when economists are hopelessly wrong? Are they fired? Are they pilloried and thrown out of their tenured positions to suffer the voluntary unemployment lines they condemn others to? Dean Baker has recently thrown a hissy fit over this. Of course not. Failed economists are a dime a dozen in our best schools. They are still teaching whatever they first thought. No amount of empirical data threatens their prestige. Why? Here’s the great scam: because economics is a self-contained, self-referential pursuit disconnected, very deliberately and carefully, from the dangers of having to be useful. It is thus immune from disproof. All that Popperian conjectures and refutations mumbo-jumbo is not applicable to economics. Economists have constructed their world so as not to have to be practical. Instead they are quasi-philosphers, quasi-mathemeticians, quasi-physicists, quasi-psychologists, and quasi-sociologists. By so being they can dodge between the bullets of practical questioning and never have to improve their art. Being quasi-everything is a great defense. You can confuse all the specialists and answer to no one. Except yourself.
As the kids used to say, read the whole thing.