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36. Economics and Economists in the Policy Process

Craufurd D. W. Goodwin


Subject Economics » History of Thought

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631225737.2003.00041.x


Extract

Economists have usually been anxious to influence policy, varying only in their ability to do so and their willingness to admit it. Before the development of a recognized economic science and an economics profession, they had difficulty being taken seriously. Until perhaps the eighteenth century no separate body of economics or applied economics literature was recognized. Earlier, it was necessary for economic thought to enter policy discussion through either another discipline, such as philosophy or theology, or debate over current events. It was soon discovered that unlike the physical or biological sciences, where policy could be based upon confident predictions about the behavior of key variables, the main economic actors were both difficult to predict and likely to change their behavior over time. Prior to the eighteenth century, the economy was thought to be less a potential source of progress and advance in human welfare than a cause of retrogression and danger. Humans were seen as vicious and passionate creatures that could be at their worst in the economy. Unless restrained, they could do damage to others and to themselves. Greek philosophers feared that human selfishness could lead to monopoly, exploitation, maldistribution of income, envy, corruption, and the downfall of a just and efficient city-state devoted to the good life of its citizens. Humans, therefore, had to ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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