John Quiggin gets profiled in The Australian today (motto: conservative everywhere but in the statistics) by Michael Stutchbury. I had always thought of Stutchbury as the sort of journalist who at least understands what the study of economics is all about but this profile reveals startling ignorance; the very same ignorance that conservative economists often display when trying to argue policy with John.
Quiggin no doubt deserves his distinguished fellowship for his theoretical work. But some may puzzle that, just as the warnings mount over the stalling of the 1980s and 90s economic reform agenda, the Economic Society honours someone who fought against the agenda in the first place. Zombie Economics argues it should be junked because “ideological” policies such as privatisation and central bank independence will cause another global financial crisis.
The argument that “Quiggin is fine when he does his academic stuff but throws it all away when it comes to public discourse” is complete and utter crap. John is the most ruthlessly neoclassical economist I have ever met. He uses the tools of modern economics religiously in ALL of this work. And his point is that those tools can support government intervention as much as they are often used in naive, textbook form to support deregulation and market-based agendas. That is why he is so powerful in public debates. He argues on the terms of those who exploit economics as an ideology. He lays out assumptions and relates those to facts. Do I think he always gets it right? No. But it is his assumptions, not the logical path from those assumptions to conclusions that I quibble with. The Economic Society was strong in their endorsement of all aspects of John as an economist.
This exposes the frustration that many on the right have with Quiggin. He is smarter and better at this than they are. And in deciding to pick on News Ltd, he awakened that machine to darken his credentials as a public figure in this country. We can now watch in amusement, like so many before his, as they desperately try to match him.