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The Morality of Economists

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is charged with attempted rape. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

L’affaire Strauss-Kahn underscores my view that we economists are as immoral—but also as principled—as any other professionals. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that; but I now know of, or even know personally, economists who have engaged in sexual assault, embezzlement, murder and, of course, clearly immoral acts that are not criminal.
Yet it is also true that we are as generous as any other group. As Yezer, Goldfarb and Poppen showed in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, 1996, learning economics makes you no less charitable in your actions (although not in what you profess) than does studying any other discipline. And each of us can recount instances of personal charity and sacrifice by well-known economists, often on behalf of younger, less well-known colleagues.
As with so many other pairs of individual characteristics, the correlation between morality and, in this case, occupational choice is very low.