Drawing on interviews with more than twenty senior economists across private, public, and not-for-profit sectors this report is about the role of chief economists. The report looks at the contribution they make to organisational life, the duties they are under and the dilemmas they face, and how they view the relationship between the worlds of practice and theory.
The question of what it is to be true to your expertise – how far you have a responsibility to push your arguments, who or what you owe that responsibility to, and when to call it quits – recurs throughout the report. Many in our sample felt that their expertise licensed them to act in ways that generalists cannot. But this was balanced by the recognition that the authority of economists is fluid and contingent and by a belief in the doctrine of collective responsibility.
The report looks also at the widespread reluctance among economists to cast themselves as a profession arising from a principled opposition to entry-barriers within the labour market and a belief that the market should and likely will put incompetents out of business. This does not mean economists believe that anything goes. What we found was a highly developed sense of professional consciousness and occupational norms.
In addition, the report examines how universities are seen to perform when it comes to educating economists and generating ideas and understanding. An important feature of the relationship between economic theory and practice is that the most abstract areas of the former stand a long way from the most concrete areas of the latter, to the point that reconciling the two and viewing them as part of a single activity presents challenges for those inside the discipline let alone outside it.