February 2021

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Bill Hutt was good on the role of economists and one would like to see a replay of history with the economists, especially Lord Keynes, following his advice and his example as well. In "Politically Impossible: An Essay on the Supposed Electoral Obstacles Impeding the Translation of Economic Analysis into Policy" (note the trademark long subtitle) he proposed a "dual formula" for economists to deal with the problem of unpopular policies. He quoted Milton Friedman on the duty of economists to prescribe what should be done, without courting political approval. He then noted that Friedman had departed from his own advice on occasions.

"Friedman's maxim implies that the economist's role is to do this (the ideal) and not to do that (the expedient). I suggest it is the economist's role and duty (in public policy discussions) to do both. Why should not advice proferred typically take the form of saying to the politicians (and indirectly to electorates) with complete candour, something like the following?"

'In our judgement, the best you will be able to get away with is programme A along the following lines; but if you could find a convincing way of really explaining the issues to the electorate, our advice would have to be quite different. We should have to recommend programme B along the following lines'."

"I am not suggesting that economists ought ever close their eyes to political realities. On the contrary, when they are concerned with the practical applications of their science, they ought in every instance to bring voting prospects into the picture - but explicitly."


This is a really interesting retrospective commentary on the reform of the car industry in Australia by an economist who worked closely with the relevant Minister and the various departments that had fingers in the pie.

Plus a self-indulgent notice for a piece on the same site concerned with the Danish cartoons.

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