THE BLOG
01/22/2015 04:54 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

Why Human's Hate Economists: Part 1, The Wrong Reasons

DAVOS, Switzerland: There are always a spattering of rock stars at Davos.

Bono's been here more times than anyone wants to admit, Mick Jagger was the party guest that everyone wanted a few years ago, and this year it is between William Adams, aka will.i.am, and Pharrell Williams, the creator of the song of 2014, "Happy". Rather an ironic theme song for our times.

But for one week a year, the biggest rock stars are not rock stars. During the World Economic Forum under way at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, the stars of the show are, perhaps unsurprisingly, economists.

Here, for five days a year, there is a greater concentration of celebrity economists than anywhere on earth. For their sake, perhaps it would have been better if "celebrity economist" had stayed an oxymoron because it's given the world just one more reason to hate them.

And while there may be some who hold a grudge against the profession, most of the reasons economists are singled out for particular derision are wrong.

I will focus on the reasons they are disliked.

The first starts early -- at school. The school system taught us to dislike smart kids, not because they did anything wrong to us as, let's face it, they don't bully much. I blame our teachers and parents, who made us feel bad in comparison to the smart ones. And economists tend to be very smart.

Later in life they revert to objectivity, even when called to address issues relating to the subjective nature of humans.

After school they enter academia, the shy world of super boffins who toil for years without recognition.

Research conducted by my old economics professor, David ­Colander, at the end of the last century found three-quarters of economics graduate students in elite programs agreed with the statement "Economics is the most scientific of the social sciences".

A full 100 percent, I suspect, believed they would earn more than the lesser sciences, and be able to help the world more.

Economists believe they have more powerful analytical tools (bigger data sets, bigger computation systems) and that their department attracts smarter students for whom their courses are designed to be mathematically torturous.

Recently a sociologist and a couple of economists broke ranks.

Marion Fourcade and her co-authors detailed how economists' objective view of their academic supremacy is linked with their subjective sense of authority and entitlement.

Fourcade discovered this mainly by asking economists about themselves. Somebody at Economists' Central Command needs to tell the troops to be quiet -- loose lips sinks fellowships.

On campus, economists distinguish themselves from other academics through their much better material situation -- many teach in business schools and have external consulting activities -- which means they attract jealousy and envy.

That we ask them to go on the evening news, that they are on the speed-dial of presidents, that CEOs fall at their feet is not their fault. Who is to blame when politicians put their policies in place?

It's a case of "Don't hate me because my theories are so beautiful." We are to blame for this, that we ask and listen uncritically.

As a group, the profession is classically male, and pretty much all the high-profile economists are men. But if male domination was grounds for dislike, many other professions are as bad or worse -- U.S. presidents, for example, coaches of football teams, or lead guitarist in rock bands.

Not that there aren't great women economists and, increasingly, economic commentators: Zambia's Dambisa Moyo, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nina Munk, who has gently delivered criticism of uber-economist Jeffrey Sach's African vision.

Then there is the co-chair of this year's World Economic Forum -- Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima, one of the most articulate voices on international economic inequality, who began as a flight engineer for now-defunct Uganda Airlines. And one of my favorites, Oxford University associate Kate Raworth and her doughnut economics.

Economists deal in the past. They are like doctors not palm readers. They can explain what they see in front of them but not what will happen.

And like a doctor examining an obese patient, they can tell where future problems might lie, but they can't predict when they might arise or, to continue the medical analogy, tell when seemingly healthy folks might run into ­problems.

In a world of continued uncertainly and volatility, it's not surprising we are searching for answers -- and that economists are happy to supply them.

If we celebrate economists until they become celebrities, then we have only ourselves to blame for helping to create a gap ­between expectations (ours) and delivery (theirs).

Finally -- and this is partially a thinly disguised attempt to keep some friendships I've made here at the World Economic Forum -- despite what one may think of the profession as a whole, the individuals that I know actually have a heartbeat and eat food like the rest of us.

As people, there are many you'd love to have dinner with. Some even dance, but that's a story for another time.