Economists in Charge


We’ve noted in the past that various countries routinely elect economists to be president or prime minister — a trend that has decidedly escaped the U.S.

We also released a podcast a while back called “What Would the World Look Like if Economists Were in Charge?” — which, despite the title, was about the U.S. more than “the world.” (Yes, I am as synecdochically myopic — or is that myopically synecdochal? — as any other American.)

Now, a British reader named Peter Bennett writes in with this challenge:

Looking forward to hearing your take on these new technocratic economists in charge in Italy and Greece.

Just how bad would things have to get in the U.S. before they’d call in the economists?

 We will try to scare up a worthy contributor to answer both those questions in the near future. 


Alas, we have seen what happened in a country run by a psychiatrist.


Not all "economists" are created equal. If a Keynesian was elected, the U.S. would most likely become worse off. Paul Krugman would be even worse. Austrian School...well, things might start to get better if he/she had their way.


Agreed! A Keynesian might have asked for even more stimulus spending, or a few more wars - to get consumption flowing of course.


Why, a Keynesian might have completely ignore the substance of their opponents' arguments and quoted them out of context in order to make them look like warmongerers!

...Or, perhaps, they would have mentioned that government spending on implements of war creates jobs and adds to GDP just like other government spending, but we would be much better off spending on infrastructure and related items which would have a positive impact on the nation's overall stature. No one ever seems to remember the parts of Keynes speech's, though, where he wonders why we can't have any kind of stimulative spending in government that doesn't involve blowing things up or digging holes in the ground.

Well, how bad could it be. I mean, the worst they could possibly do is put out a paper that says that destroying the current spending surpluses with additional tax cuts would be so stimulative on the economy that it would cause the entire deficit to be paid off eventually. Or talk about how new tax cuts will create so many jobs that we'll eventually be down to 2.8 unemployment. But that's crazy talk - no one who calls themselves an economist would go into something like that.



You just have to look at Chile in the 80s to know how a country ruled by economist works. We had a dictatorship that changed public policies based on thoughts of PhD economists coming from Chicago. The result was an improvement in several indicators, but without a real representation of citizens in politics. Now we have a crisis on education and one of the most unequal societies in the world. That's what happens when you see everything as a market.


Have there been any empirical studies of whether or not countries perform better (economically, socially, etc) when an economist is head of government?


Indian economy's growth rate has reduced ever since an economist - Manmohan Singh took over in 2004. Economies can never be run by economists.


That is patently false, India's economic growth was much faster during UPA-I regime than during the NDA regime.


Really Erudit3? Why do you talk of only UPA-1; we're in UPA-2 now. The official real GDP growth rate is ~7% and of course inflation is fudged at ~10% whereas it is closer to 20%.


Let's remember that economists were not elected in Greece or Italy (to any public position, ever) - they were appointed by resigning prime ministers. As JJ McCullough from Filibuster Comics puts it, it's as if Obama were to resign and state that Alan Greenspan would now be in charge of the country.

I doubt more economists RUN in elections in Italy or Greece, or that the American public would be ok with a non-elected leader being appointed by a resigning President outside the line of succession.


Maybe they'd call in the E-cavalry when their debt per capita is higher than in Greece.

Oh sh*t, I forgot, you already have. (That is if the Daily Show used hard data, for me it's too close to call) They're both around $45,000 per capita.

"The estimated population of the United States is 311,681,741 so each citizen's share of this debt is $48,074.04."


Actually, we did that once, at least. George Bush senior had an economics degree, and he is famous for abandoning his "read my lips" no new taxes pledge. It was his tax and budget agreement with Congress that set the stage for the economic growth of the 90's and the possibility of retiring the federal debt- all of which was undone by George Bush Junior.


The presumption that all economists would be the same is misleading. But a country run by Levitt and Dubner would be kind of fun don't you think?


Who said this country isn't run by an economist, if I remember correctly The Fed is run by economist appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, and that person usually has more control over our economy than anything the rest of the government does.


Excellent point - the Fed really is the economy's puppet master. If the term "puppet master" makes you think of a horror movie...well, in this case, it should.


Well, if by economists, you mean the Goldman-Sachs, perhaps we could save the taxpayers some money by cutting out those middle men in the White House and Capitol.

dave gershner

Economist are dime/dozen, easy to hire. Someone with leadership, outstanding qualities, maybe a touch of charisma, that's harder to come by and seldom found in econ dept.

What's puzzling/amusing is that GOP seem to think they have an easy run to White House in 2012, and yet Obama has raised more money, has incumbency, can be charismatic, top of class Harvard Law, unlike mc cain, bottom of his class at Annapolis and the clowns running for the 2012 nom.

And the most recent polling:

General Election: Romney vs. Obama

FOX News

Obama 42, Romney 44

Romney +2

General Election: Gingrich vs. Obama

FOX News

Obama 46, Gingrich 41

Obama +5

General Election: Cain vs. Obama

FOX News

Obama 47, Cain 38

Obama +9

General Election: Romney vs. Obama


Obama 48, Romney 44

Obama +4

General Election: Gingrich vs. Obama


Obama 47, Gingrich 45

Obama +2

------------and likely lots more to learn about 'flip/flop' romney while the news on the continuing bad economy (thank you gw bush) is already out.

Obama will move the country ahead in the 21st century. The pubs seems to want to take us to 1950.

General Election: Cain vs. Obama


Obama 49, Cain 39

Obama +10


Dave Gershner, Dallas TX

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu