Can a Good Economist Be Compassionate?

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Speaking of worthlessness, I’d be worthless as an adviser to either the White House or Congress because if they asked me what they should do to get the economy going, I’d answer, “Do nothing!” Let’s look at it. Between 1787 and 1930, our nation suffered both mild and severe economic downturns. There was no intervention to stimulate the economy, but the economy always recovered.

During the 1930s, there were massive interventions, starting with President Herbert Hoover and later with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their actions turned what would have been a sharp three- or four-year economic downturn into a 10-year affair. In 1930, when Hoover began to “fix” the economy, unemployment was 6 percent. FDR did even more to “fix” the economy. As a result, unemployment remained in double digits throughout the decade and reached 20 percent in 1939. President Roosevelt blamed the high unemployment on his predecessor. Presidential blaming of predecessors is a practice that continues to this day.

You say, “Williams, the White House and Congress should do something.” The track record of doing nothing is pretty good compared with doing something. None of our economic downturns in the century and a half prior to 1930 lasted as long as the Great Depression.

It would be political suicide for a politician to follow my counsel — and for good reason. Americans have been miseducated into thinking that Roosevelt’s New Deal saved our economy. That miseducation extends to most academics, including economists, at our universities, who are arrogant enough to believe that it’s possible for a few people in Washington to have the information and knowledge necessary to manage the economic lives of 313 million people. Good economists recognize our limitations, making us not nice people to be around.

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  • truebearing

    Humanity shrinks from the truth. A good economist is like a good prophet, and just as unpopular. Choosing to tell the truth is a risky proposition in this realm.

  • clarespark

    We can't tell the hard truth, so resort to irrational appeals in both parties. Our presidential candidates must prove their bona fides by being "in touch" with "the middle class" (once known as the working class). I wrote about the pervasiveness of the compassion narrative here:…. Economists, are, professionally rootless cosmopolitans and empiricists. Not cool.

  • Western Spirit

    The truth is always unpopular because it seldom flatters, serves agendas or any other purposes that lies serve, yet its absolutely necessary for freedom to ring.

  • Goebbels

    Looks like you have confused a "good economist" with your particular political ideology. I think its possible to find "good" economist on either end of the political spectrum because their studies say something useful, usually statistically, about sectors some part of how the economic systems work. This is exactly the opposite of "bad economists" of either stripe who simply repeat platitudes with out any data or new insight. I am fairly sure no one is asking you any of the rhetorical question you ask yourself in the article as it is extremely unlikely that any but the true believers consider you an economist, let alone a good one.

    • truebearing

      You missed his point about objectivity and are projecting, and rather incoherently at that.

  • H&R_ Barack


    Walter E ax's: "Can a Good Economist Be Compassionate?"

    "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn,"

    To the GOV''MENT – Keep your cotton pickin' fingars outta my pockets!

  • Russ P.

    I basically agree with Walter Williams, but I would put it a bit differently. There may be nothing the government can do to improve the economy, but there's plenty it can undo. In the legislative realm, undoing is doing. You can't repeal a law or regulation without taking positive legislative action.