Economists tend to move in small circles – like some endangered species, we often tend to gravitate towards one another. This means that most economists in the City, for example, know lots of other economists in the City, or at least have heard of them.
Economists can also be a bit awkward. While we regularly get things wrong – when speaking to those considering a career in the profession, I often tell people they have to be ready to make mistakes – we can be quite particular about getting things wrong ourselves, on our own basis, rather than because someone else tells us what to think or say.
All this is background to a conversation that took place before Christmas between an acquaintance of mine and a public relations manager at his firm (essentially, a junior spin doctor). The broad thrust of the conversation was around the Coalition Government’s policy and how good it was, and what the economist in question should say about it. Apparently the junior spin doctor was keen that my acquaintance should present the Government in a more positive light, despite the fact that the economist thought the policy stance was wrong.
Four lines of the conversation in particular really shocked the economist, which he wrote down to make sure he remembered them correctly. They went like this:
Economist: 'Are you asking me to lie?'
Junior spin doctor: 'Not really.'
Economist: 'That means you are [asking me to lie].'
Junior spin doctor: 'I wouldn’t call it lying.'
This conversation struck a chord with me, as I have sometimes come under pressure to modify my view or ‘toe the line’ to suit someone else’s agenda. Admittedly, those occasions have been few and far between. But, as someone who often gets the broad thrust of events right, but the details fairly regularly wrong (what will GDP growth be tomorrow, to one decimal place?), the last thing I would want is someone else telling me what to think. It's hard enough to get this stuff right in the first place. Plus, as an economist, intellectual honesty is one of the few things that really matters to me. Personally I think that being wrong (albeit hopefully for consistent and well-understood reasons) is more respectable than flip-flopping your view to keep other people happy.
However, it occurred to me that we economists (or maybe it’s just the two of us) are hardly representative of the wider world as a whole. So what’s your view? Please use the comment box below to let me know what you think.