Economists Debate: Are Conflicts of Interest, You Know, Bad?

One portion of the devastating documentary about the global financial collapse, Inside Job (which won an Oscar, so you have to see it), dealt with academic economists—specifically, the ways that they became financially tied to banks and other players in finance, and how that may have compromised the entire practice of economics. It even showed the heads of the economic departments at Harvard (pictured) and Columbia blithely asserting that there was no need to disclose their financial conflicts of interest in academic papers. It was sickening.

We're pleased to announce that a documentary has actually affected something in the real world! Well, kind of. The economics profession has formed a committee! A prestigious committee. A committee that will talk about whether there needs to be, get this, ethical standards, in economics. Can you imagine? Here is but one example of the strict codes they are considering:

Significantly, the proposed language about conflicts of interest would not bar the conflict itself — it would merely encourage the disclosure of such a relationship. Some have argued that such arrangements between economists and outside firms can be useful for scholarship because economists would be unable to gather data otherwise.

Academic economists must hold high-paid consulting positions with firms that have huge financial stakes in their research—otherwise, where would data come from? The data unicorn? Or, you know, the internet? When will neo-Marxist "academic integrity" thugs stop trying to crush the free market, for buying economists?

[Inside Higher Ed; photo via IMDB]