Economists are wont to cluster in think tanks and pop up on television to explain not only what is wrong with the economy but what is wrong with the world in general. In other words, because they are good at what they do and are wont to dazzle us with jargon and acronyms and mathematical formulae, and because of the underlying misconceptions summarized above, they are commonly seen to be all-wise and are treated as gurus. So it is that governments in general and Prime Ministers and Presidents in particular are guided by and sometimes hang on every word of their chosen economic advisers (chosen because they are temperamentally and ideologically simpatico). Thus our leaders become conduits for the ideas of economists just as prophets are conduits of wisdom from on high. But economic theory is not holy wisdom, and economists are not and cannot be prophets. Indeed, as one of the greatest of 20th century economists John Maynard Keynes put the matter:
“If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid”.
In short: the economy should be seen as a practical device, no more and no less. Its job is to help us to achieve ends of a moral and social nature, and keep us in tune with the needs of the natural world. It is not an end in itself. Economists, like dentists, are immensely important and at their best are very clever and deserve to be treated with great respect. But gurus they are not and nobody supposes that they are.