But there's another group that I think gets modern economics wrong. It's a smaller group, but a vocal one and a growing one: libertarians.
If you ask a libertarian about modern economics they'll often - though not always - respond in the way that this commenter did at David Henderson's post on Noah. It's sort of the exact opposite of the people who consider economists to be free market priests mixing philosophy with economics and it's pervasive in the libertarian community among economists and non-economists alike (which in a way is the saddest part). Here's a selection:
"Since at least the time of the Kathedersozialisten, criticism of markets by "economists" has been what has served the social function of the Medieval clergy: as sources of "truth" to provide a rational for the power of the State. Along with intellectuals more generally."I'm sure most readers have heard a version of that before. Hell, some readers I'm sure have asserted a version of that before. It's the trump card they play every time a real economic scientist ever wants to try to understand a friction or asymmetry in human social behavior - either (a.) you're anti-market! or (b.) you're trying to justify the state moving in! The reality is that almost no economists are anti-market. Libertarians who make this claim only come to that conclusion because they think they only way to be market oriented is to share their political views. Another reality is that most economists care a whole lot more about economic science than politics. That's why we're economists and not political scientists or political journalists.
Take the minimum wage. I've formed pretty solid views on the empirical work on the minimum wage and where I think the gaps are in the empirical work. My views on the politics of the minimum wage aren't nearly as solid. I've said in the past that I don't lose sleep over the minimum wage because of the empirical work, but at the same time I have trouble enthusiastically supporting an increase (particularly at the federal level) because it seems like such a blunt tool and it's possible it could hurt certain people when it seems to me we have better ways of helping everyone. You just don't see me jumping into that fight. You will see me jump into discussions about the economics of the minimum wage (as I did earlier this spring).
Often, when I come across libertarians that think most economics is a justification for the state, they'll assume my scientific views imply a political perspective. And it's not surprising that they do - few people think about government and politics as much as libertarians.
Sometimes I get pretty heated on politics and policy. The stimulus debate and the ultimate fiscal austerity were big enough problems that I enthusiastically jumped in. The government pay freeze and shut-down infuriated me because of its stupidity and the way it was hurting regular families in an even more direct way than austerity generally. When my wife works herself like crazy at a federal job where they don't get sufficient staff to support her work because of a hiring freeze, sufficient compensation because of a pay freeze, when she with her fellow public employees are trash-talked by libertarian and conservative pundits, and then on top of that we have concerns about job security because of a stupid shut-down that should have never happened, it makes me angry.
But to a large extent that's Daniel Kuehn the citizen, not Daniel Kuehn the economist. The most I jump into politics/policy as an economist is in evaluating federal programs, which I've done a fair amount of. I tell them if what they're doing works or doesn't work. This is policy relevant to be sure, but I am not spinning some kind of justification for the state much less criticizing the market. I also don't know what the answer to the question "does what you are doing work?" will be before I do the analysis, so none of my results can be construed as an attempt to justify the state.
Nevertheless, if you are a modern economist and you are not a libertarian this is the sort of crap you'll have to deal with on a regular basis if you spend any time talking to libertarians.