More than 200 leading economists have signed a petition denouncing Hillary Clinton and John McCain’s proposal for a gas tax “holiday” during the summer months, reasoning — correctly — that the scheme would discourage conservation and widen the deficit, while doing little for those it purports to help. Hillary’s response:
Well I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with economists. We’ve got to get out of this mindset, where somehow, elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.
The statement is noteworthy in two respects. One, it elevates mere pandering to the level of metapandering — pandering about pandering. Charged with pandering to voters’ pocketbooks, she responds by pandering to their anti-intellectualism: “economists … elite opinion…”
Two, it illustrates the uniquely precarious position of economists, and economics, in the popular imagination. Imagine! “Well I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to put my lot in with doctors when it comes to decisions about medical treatment.” Or: “We’ve got to get out of this mindset, where somehow we rely on physicists to tell us about quantum mechanics.” Economics is the only profession where people who have never studied the subject, never read any of its major works, never so much as thought about it, nevertheless feel entitled to dismiss two centuries of the most rigorous intellectual spadework — not for nothing is economics known as the queen of the social sciences — with a wave of their hands.
There are few subjects where it would seem more important to listen to expert opinion than economics, touching as it does so directly on bread-and-butter questions of the public interest. Yet because it is so intimately bound up in everyday matters, people feel uniquely entitled to substitute their own opinions for those who actually know something about the subject.
Not that it’s helped her any. Perhaps the overall impression, that she will say anything and do anything to get her hands on power, no matter how nonsensical or self-contradictory, is what did her in, in the end. “However lucky Error may be for a time, Truth keeps the bank, and wins in the long run.” The man who wrote that, I need hardly add, was an economist.