Why You Can’t Trust an Economist to Run an Economy

Conservatives in Canada argue that since Stephen Harper is an economist, he’s better able to run Canada’s economy. They’ve got it exactly backwards. Why? Because economists are academics. To get published, and therefore to get noticed at university, an academic has to choose an extremely narrow focus on which to do research and to write papers. This concentration on tiny ideas forges an ideological mind-set which, in Canada’s case, has seen our economy run on the long-discredited ideology of tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for the rest of us, along with a costly propaganda campaign to convince the country that these strategies are actually working. The result has been an economy in tatters, with ballooning national debt, increasing amounts of wealth being shunted away to the coffers of the wealthy, and costly disasters directly attributable to decaying infrastructure and lax regulation. Compounding that, in order to buy enough votes to survive, the Prime Minister requires a huge bureaucracy dedicated to administering a vastly overcomplicated tax regime that targets dozens of special interest groups.

On the other hand, a non-economist will look at the country and see poverty, illness, catastrophe, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Compassion alone will fuel the drive to put more money into more people’s hands, via fairer tax policies, a higher minimum wage, and a guaranteed annual income. But a broader mind has more going for it than just compassion. There are memory, imagination, and cooperation to name just three. Historical perspective helps us remember the disasters that Thatcherism and Reganomics provoked in two of the wealthiest economies in history, driving them both to near-collapse. Imagination will help us see a way forward to unleashing the productivity of people once they no longer have to struggle just to survive, and to find new ways to control pollution, congestion, and climate change. And the spirit of cooperation can help us work together to defeat the tax-cuts-and-austerity mindset, and put the economy back into the hands of the citizenry.