from David Ruccio
Economists have no ethics.
Certainly not like sociologists [pdf], psychologists, or statisticians, all of whom have well-defined ethical guidelines or codes of conduct. The American Economic Association has no such guidelines or code nor do most economics programs offer courses—at either the undergraduate or graduate level—on ethics.
That situation may now be changing. In general terms, the current crises have raised the issue of the role of mainstream economists in promoting policies that led to the Second Great Depression. Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job exposed the failure of prominent economists who wrote about and spoke on matters of economic policy to disclose their conflicts of interest. And, now, Reuters has published a special report on the lack of a clear standard of disclosure for economists and other academics who testified before the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee between late 2008 and early 2010, as lawmakers debated the biggest overhaul of financial regulation since the 1930s.
roughly a third did not reveal their financial affiliations in their testimonies, based on a comparison of the text of their testimonies available on the Congressional committees’ websites with their resumes available online.
George DeMartino has set out to solve this problem. His new book, The Economist’s Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics, is now available from Oxford University Press. And he has organized a session on ethics for the upcoming meetings of the American Economic Association in Denver:
9 Jan 2011 10:15 am, Hyatt Regency, Capitol 5
Association for Social Economics/American Economic Association
The Ethics of Professional Economic Practice (A1)(Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: MARTHA STARR (American University)
DEAN BAKER (Center for Economic and Policy Research) Applying Economics to Economists: Good Governance at the International Financial Institutions
DAVID COLANDER (Middlebury College) A Three-Word Ethical Code for Economists
GEORGE DEMARTINO (University of Denver) The Economist’s Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics
DEIRDRE MCCLOSKEY (University of Illinois-Chicago) Humanomics: Taking All the Virtues (and Vices) Seriously
According to DeMartino,
The economics profession has built up a greater confidence among the public than it deserves, and the result of that is an outsized influence on public policy. These economists have never gotten five minutes of training in their profession in conflicts of interest because it’s not something that economics has taken any interest in the last 100 years.
The rest of the world can only hope that, from now on, the gargantuan economists who are responsible for the current crises will be fed a steady diet of ethics.