Interpreting the Silence

George F. DeMartino

in The Economist’s Oath

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199730568
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199896776 | DOI:
Interpreting the Silence

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This chapter continues to probe economists’ longstanding antipathy toward professional ethics by focusing on the way that the profession understands human motivations and social institutions. Not least, economists equate professional ethics with a binding code of conduct that is policed through the institution of licensure. But at least since the interventions of Milton Friedman, economists have been largely hostile to licensing on the well-known grounds that it creates a monopoly that serves suppliers at the expense of the consumers of professional services. Moreover, economists typically serve as advisors rather than decision-makers, and so they are understood to be insulated from moral condemnation for the decisions taken by others. As advisors, economists are obligated simply to perform the roles assigned to them, seek good outcomes, and provide honest counsel to those they advise. In addition, economics is not a true profession; hence, professional economic ethics makes little sense. Finally, the commitment of economics to consequentialism implies suspicion about explicit rules that govern economists’ behavior.

Keywords: code of conduct; licensing; monopoly; consumer sovereignty; professionalism; economic advising; Milton Friedman; null cause; positivism; Leland Yeager; consequentialism

Chapter.  6759 words. 

Subjects: Public Economics

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