If the November election was intended as a rejection of elites, of expertise and of the sort of technocratic advice that economists often give, it’s a punch that has landed.
In somber analyses, huddled hallway conversations and pointed asides during endless panel sessions at the annual
conference of economists last weekend in Chicago, the major theme was a sense of anxiety about the incoming Trump administration. This foreboding was evident in roughly equal measure among conservative and liberal economists. But it is in direct contrast with the feelings of small-business owners and Wall Street traders.
Most of my fellow economists remain convinced that university-trained economists can offer useful insight to the new administration. Few believe it will matter. The life force that animates the econ tribe — that what they’re doing matters — has been drained away. Few see useful channels for influence. Partly this reflects President-elect Donald J. Trump ’s legislative plans. On issues like restricting trade, directly intervening to assist specific industries or corporations, targeting tax cuts to the wealthy, his agenda stands as a rejection of the advice that mainstream economist have typically offered. And partly this reflects Mr. Trump’s appointments. Few of his key economic advisers have any economics training, and the only official who identifies as an economist — Peter Navarro, who earned a Harvard Ph.D. in economics and will head up the newly formed National Trade Council — stands so far outside the mainstream that he endorses few of the key tenets of the profession.