Are Economists Influential Enough?
There’s no doubt in my mind that economics is currently the queen of the social sciences. Economists have invaded intellectual territory that was previously the exclusive domain of our friends in sociology, political science, criminology, geography and, to a degree, history. While the President regularly consults his Council of Economic Advisers, I’m not aware of him seeking the counsel of parallel councils of sociological, historical, or psychological advisers. (I will concede that he consults political advisers, although I suspect that they are only tenuously connected to scholarship in modern political science.) Popular discussion of economics trumps that of the other social sciences. Newsweek even declared economics “the sexiest trade alive.”
But it turns out that economists are terrible book writers, and have had almost no influence on the humanities.
The evidence? Thomson Reuters has compiled a list of the books most often cited in scholarly journals, and it is pretty compelling stuff. The list is filled with folks who are commonly cited in the humanities, with Michael Foucault at the top. Perhaps unsurprisingly, philosophers dominate, winning eighteen of the top thirty-seven slots. But our sister social sciences also do pretty well, with eleven sociologists, and three psychologists (plus two psychoanalysts), two political theorists, and two anthropologists.
But economics? Well, way down, second-last on the list, there’s one economist. Sort of. It’s Karl Marx, who is correctly also identified as a sociologist and a political theorist.
What explains the poor showing of economists?
It can’t be that we don’t write books. Indeed, the movement of economic scholarship from books to journals is relatively recent. Nearly all of the most important works in economics are, in fact, books. Think about: Smith‘s Wealth of Nations (and his Theory of Moral Sentiments); Ricardo‘s Political Economy; Marshall‘s Principles; Keynes‘s General Theory; Von Neumann and Morgenstern‘s Games and Economic Behavior; Samuelson‘s Foundations; Friedman and Schwarz‘s Monetary History; or, more recently, Becker‘s Economics of Discrimination, Human Capital and his Treatise on the Family. But apparently there’s not enough here to be as influential as, say, a post-structuralist philosopher like Judith Butler.
My guess is that the absence of any economics book from the Thomson Reuters list reflects the fact that economics has had no influence on the humanities. I’m not sure why. Political perceptions may be part of the story: For some reason, economics is perceived to be a somewhat right-wing discipline. But that can’t be the whole story. So I’m interested: Do you have any other explanations?
(HT: Marginal Revolution)