The Public Interest

Economics and the “Big Picture”

Nicholas Eberstadt

Spring 1983

THE economics profession is in an unusual position these days, for it is one academic industry in which rapid growth has led simultaneously to improved “competitive advantage” and greater “diseconomies of scale.” Thanks in part to its early mastery of the data processing revolution and the statistics explosion, economic literature has assumed a technical sophistication and a formal rigor which have made it the envy of-and increasingly, the model for-all other social sciences. But there has been a price to pay for harnessing the tremendous power of the information age. As econometric methodology grows more intricate, as the demand for pure and applied economic research continues to climb, and as the growing supply of economists position themselves to be on the forefront of their particular sub-discipline, the costs rise for any individual economist attempting to maintain a watch over any broad stretch of the social horizon. Being by and large rational and risk-averse creatures, economists have as a result increasingly shied away from the basic, and still largely unanswered, questions which stimulated the study of economics in the first place: the origins of wealth; the causes of poverty; the ways in which government policies and voluntary commercial associations transform societies and the people who live in them.

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