Economists by the thousands have been held their annual meetings in New York last week. A population explosion has been going on in the field, and economists have been subdividing into a host of professional associations.
Under the broad tent of the Allied Social Science Associations, 40 separate bodies have assembled in New York, ranging from the venerable stronghold of the mainstream, the American Economic Association, to a host of special-focus or heterodox groups, like the Association for Evolutionary Economics, the Cliometrics Society, the History of Economics Society, the Industrial Organization Society, the Society for Policy Modeling and the Union for Radical Political Economists.
In part, this multiplying of associations is a simple consequence of the now-unmanageable size of the profession; in part it is a result of the battles over methodologies and ideologies going on within it, causing bands of economists to form under different banners and to emit different battle cries.
Despite such evidences of disarray, economists agree about much more than they disagree about - and are willing to work together to serve the public good by stamping out economic ignorance.
A nationwide test given to more than 8,000 high school students by the Joint Council on Economic Education, one of the 40 bodies, concluded that ``our schools are producing a nation of economic illiterates.''
As a means of putting the profession's stamp of approval on the report, Paul A. Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, presented it, declaring: ``I am no disinterested party. The more basic knowledge the public has about economics, the better, the more rapid and the more effective policy makers can be.''
But as though to demonstrate that the profession has not lost its ferocious bite, Rudiger Dornbusch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in another session, said:
``The Volcker era stands out in every macroeconomic series: record unemployment, violent overvaluation of the dollar, levels of real interest rates higher than any time in U.S. history, unchecked overborrowing of developing countries followed by cessation of lending and hyperinflation in the debtor countries. Volcker once remarked that he was puzzled why small economists were always so sure of their opinions. Perhaps it holds too at the other end of the spectrum: one would have to be his size to put the world economy through the wringer that he administered.''
On the whole, however, this year's convention of the economists was in not only a humbling but a humble mood. …