Do Economists Matter for Public Policy?

July 25, 2005

Here’s our motivational quotation for the day:

If, as I am inclined to believe, economists cannot usually affect the main course of economic policy, their views may make themselves felt in small ways. An economist who, by his efforts, is able to postpone by a week a government program which wastes $100 million a year (what I consider a modest success) has, by his action, earned his salary for the whole of his life.

Indeed, if we compute the total annual salaries of all economists engaged in research on public policy issues (or questions related to this), which might amount to $20 million (or some similar figure) it is clear that this expenditure (of one much larger) would be justified if it led to a miniscule increase in the gross national product.

It is not necessary to change the world to justify our salaries.

Source: Ronald H. Coase, “Economists and Public Policy,” Essays on Economics and Economists (Chicago, 1994)

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