Economists Dissing Economics

by Michael R. Strain

I stumbled this morning across a blog post of, as the author of the post puts it, “20 or so quotes, mostly from well known economists, criticising mainstream economics. What’s most interesting is that although the quotes come from a wide range of economists, with different political views and from different times, they seem to have a lot in common.”

There’s the now semi-famous quote (at least in academic circles) from Thomas Piketty:

. . . the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.

The great Joan Robinson:

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.

Paul Krugman (who actually is a phenomenal, world-class academic economist, friends, even if you think his views on policy and politics are extremely misguided. Actually, this parenthetical kind of proves the point):

The economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.

Milton Friedman:

Economics has become increasingly an arcane branch of mathematics rather than dealing with real economic problems.

Important caveats: I’m sure these economists had thoughts much more complex on this subject than these quotes betray. (But at the absolute minimum they are entertaining, and they likely are much more than merely entertaining.) And these quotes don’t reflect my complete views on the subject, either, though I am certainly sympathetic to the sentiment. The reason the author’s post struck me enough to throw it up on the Corner is my surprise at how many great academic economists at some point in their careers expressed the same sentiment.

The whole post is here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at

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