are economists an oppressed minority?


It seems that the suggestion that economists are akin to gays because they have to censor themselves has casued a minor spat on this blog. Here are two things you have to remember in this discussion:

  • Like any professional group, economists see things differently. And they do generate friction because they have beliefs that are consistently different than the rest of the population and the rest of academia. The average person might find some of these beliefs implausible and even morally reprehensible. Economists are not unique in this respect.
  • At the same time, economists have an unusual amount of professional power. This is indicated not only by their increased salaries, but also by their relations to state and industry. When was the last time a presidential candidate felt it was necessary to have a sociological adviser?

My sense is that economists are a typical high prestige occupation: well compensated, a bit off kilter, but in no way “closeted.” How do I know that that economists are not closeted?

  • No one gets a divorce because their spouse is “outed” as an economist.
  • No one has been discharged from the millitary because they were caught doing game theory after work.
  • No one has forbidden the marriage of two economists, even though the thought churns my stomach.
  • No economist gathering has ever been raided by the police.
  • Families don’t disown their children if they turn out to be economists.
  • No one argues about whether being an economist is a “lifestyle choice.”
  • The Vatican has never declared economics to be an unnatural act against God.

In all seriousness, I think being an economist is like being in an influential third party. Sure, you may sound offensive to some folks, and you might censor yourself in polite company. But you definitely are part of mainstream society and have a place at the table when it really matters.

Written by fabiorojas

June 28, 2007 at 6:01 am

14 Responses

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  1. I absolutely agree Fabio. Economists are very much a part of mainstream society. I would add, however, that economists may become closeted when “when it really matters;” as, e.g., during a presidential campaign. Bear in mind the 2004 presidential election campaign when a White House Economic Advisor spoke on a cable news show. I do not remember the economist’s name, but Bush and Cheney “closeted” the guy after he made known on a major cable news station that “outsourcing” is a good thing for consumers.

    I would, also, like to mention that sociologists were sources of citizen indignation, during the early 50s (and probably currently with recent classical liberal trends in Org. Theory and Economic Sociology), when the profession took on Jim Crow and all of his flavors. Furthermore, many Middle Eastern political scientists are likely censored in the midst of their articulating that “democracy” is not something that can be exported. And think of legendary anthropologist Malinowski who single-handedly demolished the idea of the Freudian Oedipal Complex and suggested that the “savages” were just as capable of reasoning as “modern folk.”

    In summary, I totally agree with you. I merely wished to add to the discussion. In fact, if the discussion was about sociologists, I would have probably spoken with more fervor.


    Brian Pitt

    June 28, 2007 at 12:31 pm

  2. I recently taught an undergraduate sociology course called Society & Ecology, and many of the readings and videos I used debunked “Market Fundamentalism” or at least dealt with economics in some capacity. It seemed like these ideas were out there in the culture, and therefore that I was doing more work to unteach certain ideas than to actually promote sociological ideas. Indeed, as Brayden talked about a couple posts ago, sociology seems to be invisible to popular culture, if college students can be seen as representative thereof. I agree that fixing this could be best achieved by getting political – that is, by the discipline forging alliances with liberal interest groups. As Fabio points out, economics seems to have alliances with conservative interest groups (which is not to say that *all* “economics” supports conservative political theory). Much of sociology is already aligned with liberal political theory, but not necessarily *allied* with its incarnations. My question is, is this a cause or a consequence of its low cultural profile? Either way, I think it is a responsibility of liberal interst groups to pick up the slack and actively use sociology to support itself the way conservative interest groups use the pre-existing cultural effluvium that is market fundamentalism.



    June 28, 2007 at 1:06 pm

  3. Yeah, but gays have never been forced to carry a 1/1 teaching load while earning the highest salaries in colleges of arts and sciences (unless they are gay economists).



    June 28, 2007 at 3:27 pm

  4. […] Fabio at No one has forbidden the marriage of two economists, even though the thought churns my […]


  5. Also there are no Bravo shows named Free Market eye for the Socialist Guy

    We can do this forever. Somebody stop us!



    June 28, 2007 at 5:12 pm

  6. I don’t think it is accurate to say that economists align themselves with conservatives. Much of economics follwoing the depression tried to prove that large companies were bad for the economy. You might try and find the list of economists that supported B. Clinton in 1992. It was quite a group. There are some issues where conservatives tend to agree with economists (tariffs). But, this depends on the kind of conservative (economic vs. social). I think sociology is already heavily connected with liberalism. However, my guess is that many sociologists consdier liberals too conservative. For the most part, there are too many sociologists and economists around to make any realistic generalizations about their politics I suppose.


    David Hoopes

    June 28, 2007 at 10:25 pm

  7. Yes Omar, someone stop us!

    But before she does, let me apprise you Org. Heads of a statement made by a recently awarded Ph.D. (in sociology) who teaches, of all subjects, Classical Sociological Theory:


    Sad, but true!


    Brian Pitt

    June 29, 2007 at 1:37 am

  8. Even Marxist economics?



    June 29, 2007 at 4:25 pm

  9. I doubt that she believes that Marxian economics sucks. But, I sort of doubt that she understands Marxian economics (b.k.a. garbled Ricardianism!).


    Brian Pitt

    June 29, 2007 at 10:13 pm

  10. Is it just me, or does the “economists are an oppressed mass” line disproportionately come from economists of the “my date didn’t appreciate my proof that Soylent Green is an efficient use of people” variety?

    Based on the topics raised in the previous thread, an underlying problem is that some of these folks seem to forget that economic “facts” are not “theories” in the same sense as in the physical or biological sciences. That’s not to say that economics isn’t necessarily “scientific,” but rather that we’re dealing with results derived from theoretical propositions established as much for analytical convenience as anything else (this is an idea whose expression I’ve stolen from Robert Waldmann, btw).

    So, even if the topics that lead some economists to uncomfortable exchanges in ordinary social settings were totally uncontroversial among economists, non-economists would remain free to argue ‘normative’ positions, for instance that they don’t want economic efficiency in narrow senses to be the goals of policy.


    Tom Bozzo

    July 2, 2007 at 9:07 pm

  11. Hello Tom,

    Here is the problem that I have with your analysis:

    Whether one is dealing with the “positive” or the “normative,” or if one is, e.g., looking to distinguish between facts and norms (I borrowed this from Habermas, btw), the REALITY of scarcity cannot be circumvented by any policy or anything else. And those in the “hard sciences” seem to forget this too.


    Brian Pitt

    July 2, 2007 at 10:37 pm

  12. Brian: I’m not denying “scarcity” at all — what I’m saying is that economic analysis will not ineluctably lead you to any particular policy for dealing with it. (While I’m dropping Waldmann’s name, I should say that I’m also borrowing his proposition that “for any policy you propose, [it is possible to] write a model such that it is optimal.”)

    For instance, in the first comment you reference Greg Mankiw’s relatively famous gaffe on outsourcing. That there are aggregate gains from trade is a fairly central result of orthodox economic analysis, but whether that implies that outsourcing is good on net for “consumers” is a question whose correct (economic) answer is “it depends,” and economists who suggest it’s clear-cut are not being very thoughtful economists.


    Tom Bozzo

    July 3, 2007 at 4:09 pm

  13. […] No, economists are not oppressed like gays. Sorry, guys. […]


  14. A few comments:

    1) Caplan does not represent mainstream opinion in economics. His post, IMO, is part of a larger victimization discourse among right-libertarians and market fundamentalists.

    2) Economists are far less homogeneous than many sociologists (and the general public) believes.

    3) The word “economics” just like the word “economists” is abused by persons trying to argue one position or another. For example, phrases like “economists think X” is roughly equivalent to old commercials that say “7 out of 10 dentists agree”……..

    4) In the blogosphere the word “economics” is used interchangeably with “conservative thought” or “right-libertarian thought” leading to a break down in discourse and renders communication impossible.

    Great post and great commentary. Thanks for pulling this one from the archives-I had never read it before.


    Silly Wabbit

    May 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm

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