As someone who correctly predicted the financial crisis (first in 2003 and later in a 2006 book) I support Andy Haldane’s assertion that the economics profession is “to some degree in crisis”. He is not the first to argue this. The retiring head of the UK Treasury admitted in 2016 that economists failed to spot the build-up of risk before 2007 and were guilty of what he called “a monumental collective intellectual error”. It is a collective intellectual failure that I believe has played a key role in the rise of political populism.
The Bank of England’s chief economist was also right to compare the challenges facing economists to the famous “Michael Fish” moment, where everyone was assured that a hurricane wouldn’t hit before it did, bringing with it much devastation, in 1987. Meteorologists have since transformed their field and improved forecasts. But that is not true of the economics profession. The dominant economic model of financial liberalisation, monetary policy dominance and fiscal austerity remains intact.
In their defence, economists can’t be faulted for getting forecasts wrong. Political events such as Brexit are not easy to predict. But unlike economists, meteorologists have a deep understanding of the major forces shaping outcomes in their fields, even when they get precise forecasts wrong.
Mainstream economists, by contrast, lack that deep understanding of the economic forces driving outcomes. The reason is not hard to understand. The field of meteorology is not underpinned by policy or by an agenda. Economics, by contrast, is dogged by ideology.
What experts have said about Brexit
What experts have said about Brexit
1/11 Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
The Chancellor claims London can still be a world financial hub despite Brexit “One of Britain’s great strengths is the ability to offer and aggregate all of the services the global financial services industry needs” “This has not changed as a result of the EU referendum and I will do everything I can to ensure the City of London retains its position as the world’s leading international financial centre.”
2/11 Yanis Varoufakis
Greece's former finance minister compared the UK relations with the EU bloc with a well-known song by the Eagles: “You can check out any time you like, as the Hotel California song says, but you can't really leave. The proof is Theresa May has not even dared to trigger Article 50. It's like Harrison Ford going into Indiana Jones' castle and the path behind him fragmenting. You can get in, but getting out is not at all clear”
3/11 Michael O’Leary
Ryanair boss says UK will be ‘screwed’ by EU in Brexit trade deals: “I have no faith in the politicians in London going on about how ‘the world will want to trade with us’. The world will want to screw you – that's what happens in trade talks,” he said. “They have no interest in giving the UK a deal on trade”
4/11 Tim Martin
JD Wetherspoon's chairman has said claims that the UK would see serious economic consequences from a Brexit vote were "lurid" and wrong: “We were told it would be Armageddon from the OECD, from the IMF, David Cameron, the chancellor and President Obama who were predicting locusts in the fields and tidal waves in the North Sea"
5/11 Mark Carney
Governor of Bank of England is 'serene' about Bank of England's Brexit stance: “I am absolutely serene about the … judgments made both by the MPC and the FPC”
6/11 Christine Lagarde
IMF chief urges quick Brexit to reduce economic uncertainty: “We want to see clarity sooner rather than later because we think that a lack of clarity feeds uncertainty, which itself undermines investment appetites and decision making”
7/11 Inga Beale
Lloyd’s chief executive says Brexit is a major issue: "Clearly the UK's referendum on its EU membership is a major issue for us to deal with and we are now focusing our attention on having in place the plans that will ensure Lloyd's continues trading across Europe”
8/11 Colm Kelleher
President of US bank Morgan Stanley says City of London ‘will suffer’ as result of the EU referendum: “I do believe, and I said prior to the referendum, that the City of London will suffer as result of Brexit. The issue is how much”
9/11 Richard Branson
Virgin founder believes we've lost a THIRD of our value because of Brexit and cancelled a deal worth 3,000 jobs: We're not any worse than anybody else, but I suspect we've lost a third of our value which is dreadful for people in the workplace.' He continued: "We were about to do a very big deal, we cancelled that deal, that would have involved 3,000 jobs, and that’s happening all over the country"
10/11 Barack Obama
US President believes Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU: "It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU. We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth"
11/11 Kristin Forbes
American economist and an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England argues that the economy had been “less stormy than many expected” following the shock referendum result: “For now…the economy is experiencing some chop, but no tsunami. The adverse winds could quickly pick up – and merit a stronger policy response. But recently they have shifted to a more favourable direction”
It is ideology, not science, that leads economists to wrongly assert that the market in money is like the market in widgets, and must not be regulated or tampered with by governments. That financial flows across borders must be “free”, regardless of whether they cause instability. That bankers are simply intermediaries between savers and borrowers – and do not create credit out of thin air. That monetary and fiscal policies that serve the finance sector with bailouts are tolerable, while those that serve the poor must be resisted. That the reasoning that informs the micro-economy can be extrapolated to reach conclusions about the macro-economy. In other words, the fallacy that the budgets of households (the micro-economy) can be aggregated and compared to the budgets of governments (the macro-economy).
Unsurprisingly, these flawed theories and models are a great comfort to financial elites – which is why so many economists are hired and funded by big banks, corporations and the wealthy. And it explains why their words and ideas are repeated by the media outlets that faithfully serve the status quo or “the establishment”.
Very little has been done to transform the dominant economic model of financial and trade liberalisation or to limit economists’ almost religious belief in the efficiency of markets and hostility to public intervention. Markets must be left, it is argued, to manage almost every aspect of modern life – and bailouts confined to bankers.
Now markets have been a feature of our societies and economies for at least 5,000 years, and can be a very good thing. But markets – in money, labour and goods – have always been subordinated to the interests of society, and governed by society. Only recently have markets, especially financial markets, been elevated to a god-like role, governing whole societies and determining the life chances and futures of millions of people.
After the crisis, we were assured that markets could be relied upon to automatically restore “equilibrium” and that government intervention had to be resisted. Economists in academia, in government Treasuries, at the OECD and the IMF cheered on policies for “austerity” in the wake of the crisis. The result was prolonged economic failure.
Nine years later, economists are changing their tunes, but it may be too late. Falling incomes, expensive housing and rising debts have led to disillusionment with the establishment and helps explain the rise of political populism: a phenomenon for which the economics profession bears considerable responsibility.Reuse content