Monday, 12 September 2011

Economic code of ethics?

In this post from INET on ethics in economics economist Ha-Joon Chang makes a fairly weak defence of the economics profession by comparing the profession's behaviour to that of doctors who take implicit payment from drugs companies.  He's comparing the actual behaviour of doctors in the face of codes of ethics which aim  to prevent just such influence with the possibility or desirability of an economics code of ethics.  As such it is a very poor comparison which is utterly unconvincing and adds nothing to the debate.

Having said that, I'm not sure what role a code of ethics would serve.  It would have to be at the level of the policy/governmental activities which economists find themselves in, not at their activities as academics, which I'd prefer to be as free as possible.  And I don't think I'm being too dyspeptic to believe that the possibility of a political code of ethics to be almost an oxymoron.  Those ethical constraints, where they exist, should best be thought of as political - ideally embedded in the political institutions which use the policy guidance of economists.