Don’t Fence Me In: Sargent rejects slogans

This is just a heads up for a recent interview with the new Nobel Laureate Thomas Sargent. In the New York Times article, “The Slogans Stop Here“, he explains the futility of trying to label economists as belonging to various theoretical or political “camps”. It is a great read, and I can’t help emphasizing the following:

“If you go to seminars with guys who are actually doing the work and are trying to figure things out, it’s not ideological,” he said. “Half the people in the room may be Democrats and half may be Republicans. It just doesn’t matter.”

These are simple, but great words. In my part of the world they are currently quite important, as the government-supporting left-wing party wants to amend the foundation for the Danish Council of Economic Advisors such that its economic experts are recruited according to their political views (allegedly to secure balanced policy recommendations). Such deliberations miss the point about economic sciences altogether. I dare believe Sargent would agree as the article says:

He doesn’t wear his political opinions on his sleeve. “They really don’t matter in my research,” he said.

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3 Responses to Don’t Fence Me In: Sargent rejects slogans

  1. Dominik says:

    Hej Henrik

    Spændende pointe I laver. Dog har jeg læst så mange Krugman blogindlæg, at jeg næsten ikke kan tro at idelogisk baggrund ikke har nogen betydning for økonomisk forskning. Jeg er enig i, at det ikke nytter noget hvis man er forsker, det svarer vel til at være biased under forskningen. Men at sige, at min politiske overbevisning ikke påvirker mig, kunne vel sammenlignes med at sige, at reklamer ikke påvirker mit forbrug, altså udtale sig om noget jeg måske ikke er herre over.

    Der må vel også være en grund til at økonomer i dag, såvel som for 80 år siden stadig ikke er enige om man skal føre diskretionær økonomisk politik. Begge camps er vel dygtige nok, de ene bader bare i færskvand, de andre i saltvand;)

    I øvrigt… Noget positivt ved at dele økonomer op i ”camps”, er måske en simplificeret udgave af økonomisk teori for ikke-økonomer. Lidt a la’ gymnasietidens Milton Friedman vs. Keynes? Måske en lovlig forsimpling?

    Venlig hilsen,

  2. @ Dominik

    Don’t mix up research with blog entries. Krugman’s research is entirely different from his blog posts, which are obviously politicized. Surely, economists disagree on a lot. In macroeconomics, for example, about which models are “best” to portray the world, but they argue with data in their hands, not with political preconceptions. Those who just argue starting from political platforms don’t get far in the economics profession.

    And they shouldn’t.

    Also, I don’t think cramming tons of ideas into “schools” are productive in any way. I think one should present the arguments and let them speak. What “camp” they may or not emanate from should be irrelevant. Putting labels in the forefront paves the way for empty shouting contests. Just think of the amount of nonsense that is written about Milton Friedman and his economic contributions, because writers cannot, or will not, distinguish the free markets proponent Friedman from the economic researcher. Schools are for children or for people with low self-esteem.

  3. Johan Lagerlöf says:

    It’s funny because a few days ago I linked to that article on my fb page and I also chose – completely independently – to quote exactly that passage (the first quote in the blog post).

    I like the fact that your blog post highlights Sargent’s message that the labels don’t matter, instead of telling people about the label that he reluctantly chose for himself (as some other commentators did).