Good economists are seldom popular with the political class. This is not a shortcoming unique to democratic systems. Dictators like good economists even less. Why is this?
As a rule, politics doesn’t educate. It obfuscates, pontificates, and prevaricates. It often seeks to advance the interests of the few at the expense of the many. It is a playground for the short-sighted and the demagogic. Economics, on the other hand, tells us a great deal about how material life can be improved through the operation of entrepreneurship and markets. It informs us that there are laws beyond those that legislatures pass, and consequences for ignoring them.
The good economist is the one who takes the discussion of economic matters to the lofty level it deserves. When others spout clever sound bites, unsubstantiated charges, and snake-oil remedies, it’s the good economist who raises his hand and calmly declares, “Wait a minute! Let’s look at the facts. Let’s separate the wheat (truth, logic, and evidence) from the chaff (nonsense, false assumptions, and panaceas). ”
Perhaps it was inevitable that the one company virtually all of us have patronized, Wal-Mart, would become a political football. Any firm that makes its way to the top spot on the Fortune 500 list, as Wal-Mart did for the first time in 2002, is bound to attract attention and indeed, praise and admiration from some and envy and hostility from others.