Dear Edgeworth--Why do economists, careful and guarded in an academic context, become partisan boobs the moment a political party beckons? Why do they state as cold hard fact what they know to be the most tenuous of speculations? Is this dishonest? And why do other economists remain silent about this? Perplexed in Poway
Dear Perplexed--You have stumbled upon another instance in which the explanatory power of economics is in evidence. There is a market for ideas, just as there is a market for oranges. If someone is willing to pay you handsomely for oranges and you have oranges in your possession but don't particularly like the taste of oranges, do you refuse to sell him the oranges? Of course not! You sell him the oranges, even if you, personally, prefer the taste of bananas. The market - or to be more precise, the willingness to pay of the marginal consumer - determines the value of the oranges.
Likewise, for commerce in ideas. A political party contacts you. They want you to defend or to attack a particular policy. The economics discipline, of course, offers vague and nonconclusive evidence based on absurd models that have proven themselves to have the predictive power of an infomercial pyschic. There is no clear answer. But you have a degree after your name and you know how to tell stories, and you know how to cloak your stories in jargon. Which is to say, you have oranges. If they can reward you in fame, prestige, and influence, for your fabricated opinion, for your prejudices dressed up as science - then you will definitely make the trade. The discipline tells you to do this.
There is little room in our behavioral models for agents who choose to "do the right thing" at some cost to themselves. We assume that agents maximize utility. Period. And we never, ever posit benevolence. And so it is that we economists, by refusing to partake in some susperstitious pursuit of "integrity," demonstrate our supreme rationality.
I, myself, would say anything at all to anyone at all if I were appropriately remunerated. I would pledge my allegiance to a goat, if necessary, and swear on my honor that all the economic models ever written down attest to the goat's wisdom. We are for sale to the highest bidder! We all know this, and we make no bones about it. Why? Because our own behavior proves one of the fundamental tenets of our discipline. In short, my dear Perplexed, there is a market for everything - including us.
Ah, what a glorious profession.