George Stigler on the Svengali influence of economists on public policy and politicians

Some regard economists as rather too influential over public policy – politicians seem to fall under their (two-handed) spell. I found this out when strangers would walk up to me at parties and blame me for the latest economic reforms they did not like. They go into offensive mode without even introducing themselves or knowing my name.

George Stigler argued that ideas about economic reform needed to wait for a market.

George_Stigler

Stigler contended that economists exert a minor and scarcely detectable independent influence on the societies in which they live. As is well known, Stigler in the 1970s toasted Milton Friedman at a dinner in his honour by saying: “Milton, if you hadn’t been born, it wouldn’t have made any difference.”

Stigler said that if Richard Cobden had spoken only Yiddish, and with a stammer, and Robert Peel had been a narrow, stupid man, England would have still have repealed the corn laws. It would still have moved towards free trade in grain as its agricultural classes declined and its manufacturing and commercial classes grew in the 1840s onwards because of the industrial revolution.

As Stigler noted, when their day comes, economists seem to be the leaders of public opinion. But when the views of economists are not so congenial to the current requirements of special interest groups, these economists are left to be the writers of letters to the editor in provincial newspapers.

These days, they would post an angry blog.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The timing of major economic reform programmes | Utopia - you are standing in it!
  2. Trackback: @MatthewHootonNZ What’s the difference between embedded neoliberalism and Director’s Law of public expenditure? | Utopia - you are standing in it!
  3. Jim Rose
    Dec 11, 2015 @ 23:25:09

    Reblogged this on Utopia – you are standing in it! and commented:

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