top economists and humility

Being a “top economist” in Germany has become a severely inflationary attribute of late. It seems to me that there isn’t a day going by without yet another “top economist” coming out of the woodwork to pontificate on everything under the sun: given any topic and any position you can find a “top” economist to assume and defend it…

It would normally not really be of any particular interest to me but being that I am blessed to be a diaspora Greek and being that my fellow compatriots, despite their collective failure of late, deserve better than to be beaten by every “top” author of published but half finished essays, I was reminded of Friedrich August von Hayek’s Nobel Banquet speech in which he masterfully explains what the cause of his apprehension towards the Nobel Prize in Economics is (emphasis on some parts is mine).

“It is that the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess.

This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence.

But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.

There is no reason why a man who has made a distinctive contribution to economic science should be omnicompetent on all problems of society – as the press tends to treat him till in the end he may himself be persuaded to believe.

One is even made to feel it a public duty to pronounce on problems to which one may not have devoted special attention.

I am not sure that it is desirable to strengthen the influence of a few individual economists by such a ceremonial and eye-catching recognition of achievements, perhaps of the distant past.

I am therefore almost inclined to suggest that you require from your laureates an oath of humility, a sort of hippocratic oath, never to exceed in public pronouncements the limits of their competence.”

What a wonderful and deeply ironic twist that von Hayek turns to Greece’s Hippocrates to give depth and substance to his suggestion like western civilization always does whenever, one step before defaulting, it needs solid collateral to roll over its cultural debt deep into the future. That future is now gentlemen and the cultural debt has long matured so humility and respect is the minimum payback the inhabitants of my peninsula can ask of the “top economists” as we all deal with our issues. Humility is the investment whose dividends are returned when what went around comes around

PS1:  Von Hayek’s humility oath should be like a Hippocratic oath since we know well that the actual Hippocratic oath does not help in this context: Projekt 1(,)8 endlich geschafft!

PS2: Es kann nicht sein, dass ein 38-jähriger Mediziner ein ganzes Land zur Disposition stellt.

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