Bock, as ever, puts his clammy palsied finger on the button. His truthiness shines like the face of a party hack eating a bag of chips after a summer evening canvass of a concrete estate. Modest as he is, and erudite to boot, he hides his true message in a layer of allegory, metaphor and literary allusion. Sherlock, dogs, Moriarty, cocaine… The real message is: where are all the professors gone?
Ireland has a fair few professors of economics (not so many as one might think, damned few in finance and none in banking…). We have loads, hundreds literally, of lecturers and assort other ranks, in the universities and Institutes. Yet, when asked to name five academic economists, most people a) look at you like you were deranged and in need of medication and b) go “errrr…Morgan Kelly? Hang on… ahhhh… yer man, the Russian fellah, whatshisname, that McCarthy fella..and…and…” Some might put in my name, others Karl Whelan, or Steve Kinsella, or maybe Seamus Coffey.
The reality is that most academic economists have stayed resolutely sthum over the crisis. It is as if, faced with a gigantic pandemic, that most had not seen coming and many of whom denied could ever come to pass, the medical community disappeared. Some would pop up to duckspeak in their defence of the government policy of castor oil, leeches and cold showers, others to suggest that while these may help the symptoms the underlying cause needs to be looked at, and others yet again would join government taskforces and snap on the latex gloves. But most? Most say naught,
We have in the Irish academic community world-class experts, in the academic sense, in areas such as labour economics, health economics, the economics of regions, international finance, small business economics and finance, deprivation and economic development, behavioural economics…. In every one of these areas a small few people have made the running, in terms of actually PROFESSING. The consequence has been that most people think of economics as forecasting things (badly), the deficit, the banks and that’s about it. The wealth of what is going on in the applied microeconomics disciplines has been left hidden. Yes, people are publishing, but they are not publicising. A large chunk of our wages (but not as much as people think) comes from the taxpayer, and they need to know what is going on. They might later regret it but…
Not everyone is as mouthy as I am. But the media are pretty grateful for someone to do their copy for them. Academic economic professors, in the general sense, need to stop being the dogs that do not bark in the night. They need to man and woman up, start doing press releases, contact journalists, cultivate contacts in the media, do newspaper articles and columns, start blogging… They need to get engaged. The excellent LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog has dozens of articles on how to do this and how not to do it. The universities media units wont do it, paralysed as they are by the shiny baubles of the STEM units and desperate to play into the government “if it cant be commercialised tomorrow its feck all use to us” attosecond thinking. So it’s up to them.
Nor can they play to the “an invisible force is stopping me” argument. That works for dogs and ultrasound anti-barkers, but once someone is permanent in a university, they have tenure (even still). Promotions are scant anyhow, so it really costs little professionally to occasionally speak up. If that means that the local TD rings you up frothing, or some assistant whelp to a minister gives a dirty look the next time you meet, so what? They will come to you if they need you. The other crowd will do the same. I am a card-carrying FF member. I am also a member of the Labour party. Both of these are of course secret, so secret that even I don’t know. Both have been told to me in absolute seriousness by Serious People “we know you are a you know”. The political class in this country have attitudes and principles as shallow as the slick on the window of a car after a rainshower, and as useful. They don’t like criticism, any of them. The Liam Cosgrove attitude of critics as mongrel foxes who need to be rooted out and fed to the hounds, D’Bert attitude to critics as being people who should commit suicide, these prevail. Evidence based commentary and analysis, where the evidence is both factual and ones own professional expertise, is a valid form of academic communication. It is indeed what we might expect people with such evidence to do faced with debate. Plus, it annoys the hell out of the political class… So, speak up.