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The Tyranny of the Econocracy

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Matthew McCaffrey


By: Matthew McCaffrey

The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts. By Joe Earle, Cahal Moran, and Zach Ward-Perkins. Manchester University Press, 2017. Xix + 212 pages.

The global financial crisis of ten years ago had a profound effect on the general public’s perception of the economics profession. Prior to the crisis, most people seemed only dimly aware that the profession existed at all, much less that it had any influence over their lives. Yet ever since, the ideas and institutions surrounding mainstream economics have been vilified, while economists themselves have been blamed for failing to predict disaster, or even helping to encourage it.

But perhaps most important, the crisis revealed a deep and growing rift between the economics profession and the general public. The old image of economists as a sort of slightly-more-interesting version of accountants has given way to a view of them as a priestly class helping governments to divine policy, but whose obscure wisdom and arcane rituals are closed to the general public.

The Econocracy is a study of the economics profession and how it came to monopolize the sphere of expert opinion in politics. There is much that could be said about this book, so here I’ll limit myself to a few general points (you can see a fuller review here). Its main thesis is that economics is no longer a diverse community of inquiry, but a detached profession that sees the world only in light of its own tools and goals. In fact, according to the authors, the world is fast heading toward “econocracy,” defined as, “A society in which political goals are defined in terms of their effect on the economy, which is believed to be a distinct system with its own logic that requires experts to manage it” (p. 7). The idea is that economists have made themselves an indispensable part of the political process, which they manage by defining its political and social goals (which are usually economic goals, such as increased growth), crafting the policies to attain them, and shutting out competing views.

In this setting, economics is for most people a foreign language in which the important business of society and politics is conducted. This barrier to understanding increases economists’ influence in the political process, and works like most other barriers to entry. For example, without economic training, most people are unable to engage critically with …read more


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