Synopses & Reviews
Economics is today among the most influential of all professions. Economists alter the course of economic affairs and deeply affect the lives of current and future generations. Yet, virtually alone among the major professions, economics lacks a body of professional ethics to guide its practitioners. Over the past century the profession consistently has refused to adopt or even explore professional economic ethics. As a consequence, economists are largely unprepared for the ethical challenges they face in their work.
The Economist's Oath challenges the economic orthodoxy. It builds the case for professional economic ethics step by step-first by rebutting economists' arguments against and then by building an escalating positive case for professional economic ethics. The book surveys what economists do and demonstrates that their work is ethically fraught. It explores the principles, questions, and debates that inform professional ethics in other fields, and identifies the lessons that economics can take from the best established bodies of professional ethics. George DeMartino demonstrates that in the absence of professional ethics, well-meaning economists have committed basic, preventable ethical errors that have caused severe harm for societies across the globe. The book investigates the reforms in economic education that would be necessary to recognize professional ethical obligations, and concludes with the Economist's Oath, drawing on the book's central insights and highlighting the virtues that are required of the "ethical economist."
The Economist's Oath seeks to initiate a serious conversation among economists about the ethical content of their work. It examines the ethical entailments of the immense influence over the lives of others that the economics profession now enjoys, and proposes a framework for the new field of professional economic ethics.
"Of course not all economists have ignored ethical issues. Among others, Robert Nelson (2001), Deirdre McCloskey (2006) and Paul Heyne (2008) have given thoughtful critiques of theological and ethical issues in the practice of economics. DeMartino takes those arguments a large step forward, however, arguing that economists, in their everyday practice of doing economics, are not ethical."--EH.net
"Both in construction and exposition the book displays the carefulness and clarity that characterizes the best philosophical writing. DeMartino works through his arguments thoroughly but concisely, not shrinking from exploring the ramifications of his points, but not pursuing them further than is needed to grasp the issues in question. The care and clarity of his writing should make it impossible for a careful, honest reader to misinterpret what the author is arguing. Hence he provides a fruitful basis for the further debate that he calls for..."--Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics
"Can anyone doubt that economists need a good dousing in ethics? George DeMartino does just that. He does so, not in anger, but with the calm and persuasive tone of an author who knows his subjects and gives full airing to those who may disagree. He has written a book on ethics that is itself ethical. It is a valuable and novel contribution to a profession that keeps repeating its errors. How do we make them listen?"--Jeff Madrick, author of The Case for Big Government
"DeMartino has broken with the economist's oath never to discuss oaths. It's about time. Economists are taught in graduate school that about ethics one should not dispute, which gives them a warrant to ignore ethics in their science. The teaching is philosophically naive and politically silly. A science of the economy, and certainly an economist advising the prince, depends on ethical commitments, such as the elementary one to seek the truth, or to do no harm, or to support democracy, or to help the poor. DeMartino has courageously opened the conversation, with a masterful command of economics and of English style."--Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce and The Cult of Statistical Significance
"In The Economist's Oath, George DeMartino reminds us that what economists do matters deeply-economic policies and interventions affect the rights, opportunities and life chances of people everywhere. This book should provoke careful consideration by economists, human rights advocates and others of what it means to be an 'ethical economist.'"--Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, founder and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative
"In The Economist's Oath George DeMartino presents the elements of professional ethics, notably principles of prudence and autonomy well-known to doctors and engineers, and he demonstrates their neglected relevance to economists. Careful, respectful and without rancor or rush-to-judgment, this beautifully-argued book is a warning about economics today and a challenge to economists to come."--James K. Galbraith, The University of Texas at Austin and author, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too
"Economists matter. They have influence and power; what they do affects people's lives. With influence comes responsibility. All too often economists don't even consider those responsibilities. They should, and this book will help them do so."--David Colander, CAJ Distinguished Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Middlebury College
"Economists rarely seem to think about the ethics of their profession. This book makes a powerful case as to why they should and what professional ethics would mean."--Dean Baker, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
"The economics profession today faces a crisis of confidence and identity. This partly stems from a blindness to ethical factors in economic policy advising and making. The Economist's Oath is a major contribution to the necessary rethinking of professional economic conduct."--Robert H. Nelson, University of Maryland
"It is remarkable that the economics profession has failed to produce a code of ethics. The Economist's Oath is a wake-up call not only to professional economists but to everyone who relies upon their judgment and advice-in short, to all of us."--James K. Boyce, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"This book belongs on the shelf of every ethicist, policy analyst and civic activist if we are going to loosen the grip of economics' dead hand from our lives."--Ethical Matters.com
Economists enjoy enormous influence over the life chances of the world's inhabitants, yet do not receive, at any point in their training, any exposure to the professional ethical challenges that their work entails. This lack of attention to professional ethics means that even well-meaning economists will take actions that can cross ethical lines, to the detriment of those whom they seek to serve.
The Economist's Oath seeks to initiate a serious conversation among economists about the ethical content of their work, by raising fundamental questions on the nature of what economists do, the reception that ethics has historically had in the profession and why, how this reception is dangerous for all parties involved, the lessons to be drawn from other professions with advanced professional ethics, the principles that could emerge from professional economics ethics, and the kinds of reform in economic education that might be implied by a commitment to professional ethics. The book does not present an ethical expose or seek to embarrass the profession or individual economists, nor does it seek to lay down an ethical law for the profession. Instead, it more modestly but more importantly advances the case for the inauguration of a new tradition of inquiry. DeMartino argues that critical inquiry by economists into professional economic ethics would enhance the quality of the services that the profession offers, might help to prevent avoidable and consequential errors and could provide the communities that economists serve with a standard to which economists could be held accountable.
About the Author
George F. DeMartino
is Professor of Economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He writes widely on ethics and economics, as well as labor issues and political economy theory. He is the author of Global Economy, Global Justice: Theoretical Objections and Policy Alternatives to Neoliberalism
Table of Contents
PART I: The Case for Professional Economic Ethics
1. "I Do Solemnly Swear"
2. Economics Practice: What Do Economists Do?
3. Ethical Challenges Confronting the Applied Economist
4. Historical Perspective: "Don't Predict the Interest Rate!"
5. Interpreting the Silence: The Economic Case against Professional Economic Ethics
6. Breaking the Silence: A Rebuttal of the Economic Case Against Professional Economic Ethics
7. The Positive Case for Professional Economic Ethics
PART II: The Content of Professional Economic Ethics
8. Learning from Others: Ethical Thought Across the Professions
9. Economists as Social Engineers: An Ethical Evaluation of Market Liberalization in the South and Transition Economies
10. Global Economic Crisis and the Crisis in Economics
11. On Sleeping Too Well: In Search of Professional Economic Ethics
12. Training the "Ethical Economist"
13. The Economist's Oath