What Do Economists Know?

• Author(s): Alan Budd • Published: September 2004
• Pages in paper: 10


How would you respond to a group of high school students when asked “What do economists know?”. Alan Budd’s answers will be familiar to readers of World Economics but bear repeating. Economics, unlike, say, Physics, tends to attract beliefs and opinions by non-specialists held with as much assurance as those of the experts within the discipline. After all, isn’t economics just common sense? No, there are facts—which are often surprising and counter-intuitive—that have been determined only by the special skills of economists. Certainly there are things economists don’t know. But economists can be confident about quite a lot of what they do think they know, even when they are disbelieved by large parts of the public not to mention political leaders and policy makers. Sir Alan revisits some fundamentals.

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More Papers From This Author in World Economics:

The Quest for Stability
Author: Alan Budd

The UK seems to be enjoying a golden age of macroeconomic policy-making. Growth is steady; inflation is low and stable, and unemployment is low. After years of trying to achieve economic stability we seem to have found the answer. This paper explores the history of policy-making from the late 1950s. For many years the presumption was that active demand management could be directed at achieving a desirable (low) level of unemployment. Pursuit of that policy helped produce the disasters of 1975 and brought the recognition of supply-side constraints. Progress has been uneven but the system set in place after 1992 and the move, four and a half years later, to the establishment of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee have produced an effective and highly successful system of policy-making. Ironically, stability of output, and a low level of unemployment, have been achieved when they have ceased to be explicit objectives of policy.

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