The Phantom Economy   /   Summer 2010   /    The Phantom Economy

The Great Mortification

Economists’ Responses to the Crisis of 2007–(and counting)

Philip Mirowski

Illustration © Brett Challos/

Economists have not comported themselves with much dignity of late. Normally so quick off the mark to ferret out and expose irrationality in others, currently they have been distinctly loathe to recognize a pandemic within their own ranks. I refer here to the outpourings spewn forth by the economists themselves, provoked by the numerous embarrassments that have been visited upon them consequent to the onset of the world economic crisis.

The figure of the economist has more often than not served as a butt for jokes or the template for an unsympathetic protagonist in the larger culture; economists make for lousy celebrities.2 Yet something novel and not a little creepy has happened since 2008. General interest magazines, from Business Week to The Economist to The New York Times—previously cheerleaders for the economics profession—turned openly hostile in 2008, hectoring whole schools of thought for their failures, grasping randomly for “new paradigms,” rooting around for sixth-round draft picks and telegenic wicked rebels to replace their prior stable of catallactic pundits. Lusting for scapegoats, journalists initially scoured the landscape for miscreants like Bernie Madoff, Dick Fuld, and Joseph Cassano, and then instinctively sought to find their counterparts inside the economics profession. There was even an online ballot for receipt of the Ignoble (or “Dynamite”) Prize, to be awarded to the three economists deemed to have contributed the most to the global financial collapse.

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