Dismal Dominance

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The Rise of the Economists: Interest in what economists have to say rises and falls with the economy. Measured by mentions in The New York Times, other professions aren’t as notable.

As a blog that features lots of history and literature, but little from the dismal science, this catches our attention.  Why so little economic reference at Raxa Collective? Wrong question. The economics of sustainable development are the foundation for all that we do, day in and day out, and those economics are embedded in many, if not most, of the stories we share on this blog. For that reason and more, this essay is worth a read and a ponder:


How Economists Came to Dominate the Conversation

Have we reached peak economist?

Two hundred years ago, the field of economics barely existed. Today, it is arguably the queen of the social sciences.

These are the conclusions I draw from a deep dive into The New York Times archives first suggested to me by a Twitter follower. While the idea of measuring influence through newspaper mentions will elicit howls of protest from tweed-clad boffins sprawled across faculty lounges around the country, the results are fascinating. And not only because they fit my preconceived biases.

Using the new Chronicle tool that catalogs the entire Times archive, I discovered that in recent years around one in 100 articles mention the term “economist,” and these typically occur in the context of introducing a proponent of the dark arts. Far fewer articles mention the terms historian or psychologist, while sociologists, anthropologists and demographers rarely rate a mention.

It wasn’t always this way. Historians held the largest market share until the Great Depression intervened in the 1930s, leading a frightened public to take a greater interest in economics.

There’s an old Bob Dylan song that goes “there’s no success like failure,” and it’s a lesson that’s been central to the rise of the economics profession. Each economic calamity since the Great Depression — stagflation in the 1970s, the double-dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the 1991 downturn — has served to boost the stock of economists. The long Clinton boom that pushed unemployment down to 3.8 percent was good news for nearly all Americans, except economists, who saw their prominence plummet. Fortunately, the last financial crisis fixed that.

Today, the profession is so ubiquitous that if you are running a government agency, a think tank, a media outlet or a major corporation, and don’t have your own pet economist on the payroll, you’re the exception.

But it’s not just economists who are thriving. Over the past 50 years, the pages of The Times have come to reflect an increasing fascination with the social sciences generally, and mentions of historians, psychologists and, to a lesser extent, sociologists have also risen. As social sciences have grown in importance, other sources of authority have lost market share. Priests were once more likely to be discussed in the pages of The Times than any of these social science celebrants, but today they are found far less often than either economists or historians, roughly on par with psychologists…

Read the whole essay here.

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