This is a bad time to be an economist. If you were fresh from the womb and had no past opinions to defend, if you had never said anything notable before, it might be a fine time to be an economist. If you are one of those soap-opera characters who has complete amnesia and no memory of anything that they ever said or did or any intellectual position they took before January 1, 2010, it might be a fine time to be an economist. But for the rest of us--we who are now looking back at our opinions and analytic judgments and statements and pronouncements of the past 15 years and thinking: "how could I ever have been so stupid; how could I have missed so much?"--it is a bad time to be economist?
Four years ago we economists were writing learned papers about the "Great Moderation": about how it looked as though the governing institutions of the world economy had finally learned how to control and moderate if not completely eliminate the business cycle--the epileptic seizures of the economy that leave us with pointlessly high unemployment, pointlessly idle capacity, and pointlessly rusting away machines in spite of there being no fundamental cause for machines to be idle, factories closed, and workers unemployed.Funny, I know of several economists that suggested that an economy based on debt-led consumption, on the basis of asset bubbles, was not sustainable and that a crisis was coming. It would be tedious to cite all, and I'm lazy and don't want to find links to their papers, but a limited list of names (do a google search) would include Dean Baker, Jane D'Arista, Jerry Epstein, Jamie Galbraith, Wynne Godley, Thomas Palley, Bob Pollin and Lance Taylor (before hand I'm sorry for any significant omissions). I knew enough to be sure that it was not sustainable.
But I'm glad that the best in the mainstream admit that it was stupid not to see it coming. I would suggest to him that part of the problem of the inability of the mainstream to see it coming is their theoretical framework. The consensus macroeconomic model, based on an IS curve, a monetary policy rule, and a Phillips Curve with a natural rate of unemployment, in particular because it assumes that the economy automatically returns to the natural rate, is a flawed basis for understanding the real world.