Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fundamental misconceptions about health economists and economics

Economics: the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world?

Twitter is a risky tool. Your short messages are seen worldwide, be careful. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, sent 10 tweets about economics and economists. Ten misconceptions, one behind the other. Certain people consider that such sentences doesn't deserve an answer, they only reflect the personality and knowledge of the author. Others, like David Parkin, John Appleby and Alan Maynard think the opposite and they decided to write a comment this week in The Lancet. This is an article for the files. And it fits perfectly as a recommended reading for those that share these controversial views of Richard Horton:

Panel: Tweets from @richardhorton: “Economics, second only to ‘management’, may just be the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the world.”
The case against economics:
1 The promise economics offers is seductive: how to allocate scarce resources in society.
It’s a false promise.
2 Economists write as if the economy=society, and societal problems=economic problems. The confl ation is false too.
3 Once there was political economy = economics, ethics, politics. Economists have stripped morality from economics, leaving an arid science.
4 The high points of economic thinking are theories, not data. Reliable experimentally derived data are anathema for most economists.
5 Economists see health as an economic good. It is an opportunity cost, with zero intrinsic value.
6 Rationality, for the economist, means subjecting every thought/decision to a cost-benefit analysis. A wholly narrow view of humanity.
7 The big idea in economics is the market. The assumption is that human beings make cost-benefit decisions based only on self-interest.
8 The essence of economics is price. For those in health who argue for access free at point of delivery, we kill the soul of the economist.
9 Economists deny the existence of citizens. They see only consumers.
10 Finally, it’s acceptable to worsen the lives of some provided the gains of others compensate. Economists institutionalise inequality.A sum of nonsense sentences, one behind the other. 
After reading the comment to each of these tweets, it will be difficult to maintain the same position.
And the authors' conclusion:
What motivated Horton’s critical outburst about economics and economists is not clear. More than 40 years ago, an essay by Alan Williams to defend economic evaluation admitted its imperfections, but concluded with Maurice Chevalier’s view on old age: “Well, there is quite a lot I don’t like about it, but it’s not so bad when you consider the alternative!”Economics, like medicine, is imperfect. The challenge for practitioners of each is to ensure that the perfect does not drive out the good. Our practices may at times be imperfect, but that should not inhibit our drive to improve clinical practice and economic activity for the benefit of all our patients and citizens. We all must strive to avoid confused analysis in displays of modest understanding of each other’s work.

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