Saturday, December 24, 2016

Economists for a wide audience, according to Tirole

Jean Tirole, the 2014 Economics Nobel Prize, has written a book in French for a wide audience, "L'economie du bien comun." It is a long book, and I am reading it in a disorganized way, since most of it is a popularization of his research, and I am quite familiar with his work since my years as a graduate student. One of the parts of the book that I enjoyed more is the one devoted to discuss the relationship of the research economists with the wider public. Tirole argues with the clarity that characterizes all his work that applied researchers in the social sciences face many demands and opportunities to interact with the media, politics and private interests. He is very open about the risks (including the ethical ones) involved in these relationships. Research is about nuances, debates, doubts, small steps towards the truth. Instead, media, politics and business controversies are about strong opinions and personalities. Tirole, especially since he was awarded with the Nobel Prize, has been reluctantly dragged more towards this aspect of his work. The book is precisely a result of this pressure. Although these books are aimed for a wide audience, in practice they end up being read by other economists that are curious or want to have a shortcut to the ideas of great researchers without paying the cost of reading the scholarly articles. This great economist argues nevertheless that interacting with the outside world is necessary as long as one does not exagerate his or her wisdom especially in areas that are far away from the topics of research expertise. In the media markets and in the political and business worlds there is not much demand for nuance and seriously critical minds. There are few economists turned celebrities that are as open as Tirole about the risks of engaging with the open world. These days the risks of exagerating and jumping into conclusions are enormous with social networks, blogs and 24 hours news channels. We should all spend less time with current events and more time with deep knowledge, although we know that by doing this we are leaving all the floor to charlatans and useful idiots.

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