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Creating Humble Economists: A Code of Ethics for Economists


  • David Colander



From the movie, Inside Job, one gets the sense that economists are ethically challenged because they take payments for writing papers that say what the funders of their research want them to say. This paper takes issue with that and suggests that the more serious ethical problem of economics has little to do with the funding of economic research. It has to do with lack of humility. It argues that economists have a tendency to convey more scientific certainty in their policy positions than the theory and evidence objectively would allow. Too many economists are willing to make seemingly definitive scientific statements about policy based on models, that they know, or should know, are highly imperfect. To deal with that problem, this paper suggests that applied economists should see themselves as engineers, not as applied scientists. It argues that doing so is important because engineering has a broader and more humble methodology than does science. Because applied economists are essentially engineers, the paper argues that an Economist’s Code of Ethics can be closely based on the National Society of Professional Engineer’s Code of Ethics.

Suggested Citation

  • David Colander, 2011. "Creating Humble Economists: A Code of Ethics for Economists," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 1103, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mdl:mdlpap:1103

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Christian Zimmermann, 2013. "Academic Rankings with RePEc," Econometrics, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 1(3), pages 1-32, December.
    2. David Colander & Richard Holt & Barkley Rosser, 2004. "The changing face of mainstream economics," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(4), pages 485-499.
    3. Colander, David, 2003. "The Aging of an Economist," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(02), pages 157-176, June.
    4. Terry Plum & David Colander, 2004. "Efficiency, Journal Publishing and Scholarly Research - A Discussion Paper," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0414, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
    5. J. Peter Neary & James A. Mirrlees & Jean Tirole, 2003. "Evaluating Economics Research in Europe: An Introduction," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(6), pages 1239-1249, December.
    6. Bruno S. Frey & Reiner Eichenberger, 1993. "American and European Economics and Economists," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(4), pages 185-193, Fall.
    7. Colander, David, 1989. "Research on the Economics Profession," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 137-148, Fall.
    8. Kalaitzidakis, Pantelis & Mamuneas, Theofanis P. & Stengos, Thanasis, 1999. "European economics: An analysis based on publications in the core journals," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(4-6), pages 1150-1168, April.
    9. David Colander, 2008. "The Making of a Global European Economist," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(2), pages 215-236, May.
    10. Frey, Bruno S & Eichenberger, Reiner, 1992. "Economics and Economists: A European Perspective," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 216-220, May.
    11. David Colander & Hugo Nopo Key Words: Latin American economics, global economics, political economy, graduate training, Latin America, applied economics, 2007. "The Making of a Latin American Global Economist," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0705, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
    12. Tom Coupé, 2003. "Revealed Performances: Worldwide Rankings of Economists and Economics Departments, 1990-2000," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(6), pages 1309-1345, December.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Are economists not humble enough?
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2011-12-08 21:48:00
    2. Do Economists Lie More?
      by UDADISI in udadisi on 2012-02-22 19:29:00

    More about this item


    code of ethics; methodology; science; humility; applied; moral;

    JEL classification:

    • A1 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics
    • B0 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General
    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology

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