Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Economists as Dentists: A Correction

Here's a quote you hear a lot about Economists:
If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!

It's from Keynes,  John Maynard Keynes,Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930).  But its often misquoted. 

Keynes pointed out that with the power of compound interest, by 2030 the UK would be eight times better off.   He therefore predicted the end of scacity and the need to only work 15 hours per week.  With no scarcity, economic problems would vanish.  That would mean that Economics would become a specialised subject, only in fields were scarcity persisted.  That is the context in which he used the dentists description, for he described them as specialists.  And indeed, economics has become more specialised, not because scarcity has vanished but in the same way the discoveries in medicine have divided labour and made the subject specialised. So the full quote is this:
"It [the economic problem of scarcity] should be a matter for specialists-like dentistry. If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!"


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