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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.

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Paper provided by Middlebury College, Department of Economics in its series Middlebury College Working Paper Series with number 1103.

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Length: 13 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mdl:mdlpap:1103
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