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What econimists contribute?



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[Topics under debate]: GOOD GOVERNANCE
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Was reading "What Economists Contribute?" edited by Daniel B. Kline. New
York University Press  (1999).

An altogether exhilarating collection of writings by Coase, Tullock,
Schelling, Kirzner, and Hayek, among others. Very similar in theme to my
draft paper on "Economists as managers of change" - which is a bit too
ambitious, though, and which I am not yet ready to publish.

Nevertheless, I would urge all the economists on this list to not
hesitate to write simple 1-page flyers on simple policy issues. That is
a task which will generally prove far more effective for the society
than writing tens of papers in academic journals. 

Mr. Everyman - as Kline calls the non-economists, is the ultimate judge
of the truth of the recommendations of economists. Avoiding Mr.Everyman
is not going to get us far. Let us look at the world from the
perspective of Mr. Everyman and explain - in very simple language - what
Coase calls "simple truths." He states correctly,
	
"The problem is that economists seem willing to give advice on questions
about which we know very little and on which our judgments are likely to
be fallible, while what we have to say which is important and true is
quite simple - so simple indeed that little or no economics is required
to understand it. What is discouraging is that it is these simple truths
which are so commonly ignored in the discussion of economic policy."
(1975)

If Prof. Roy, Parth, and others here (including me) fail to communicate
these simple truths to the people of India then the fault would lie not
with the people who are following what they perceive to be the 'best'
policies, as originating from their ignorance, but with economists who
knew but did not communicate the simple truths in a simple language. The
responsibility for the failure of Mr. Everyman to comprehend the basics
of good policy lies not with Mr. Everyman but with economists whose
incentives are skewed in favor of the ivory tower. Mr. Everyman is very
intelligent but is hard pressed with time. He needs simple
and short explanations.

Kline talks of the need for economists to come together. IPI has made it
possible for some of India's best economists to come together. If with
this opportunity, too, we fail, then we will have nothing to show for
our 'learning.' Much hot gas and equations in stale academic journals,
read not even by all economists since the discipline has split into tens
of branches, each competing for esoteric irrelevance.

Friedman had said to Prof. Roy when he wrote to Prof. Friedman in
September, 1998,: "The web provides you with a tool that I and my
contemporaries did not have and you are wise to make full use of it."

(see http://www.indiapolicy.org/debate/Notes/friedman_note.html)

But since september, have we reallly displayed the 'wisdom' that
Friedman expected of us? If we fail to use this most magnificent tool,
the web, then we would have squandered the greatest opportunity to work
together as a team that has arisen in mankind's history.

Let the flyers pour out from the pens of the economists (and
non-economists who understand); let us make complex issues simple. Let
us cause an era of enlightened policy making and citizens' participation
to begin. 

SS


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