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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Economists – Code of Ethics Needed ?

Intersections between disciplines are increasingly important. Law is very much about economics, as is often demonstrated by the University of Chicago Law School. Scientific research is shaped by economics. So, how to better understand the intersections and reach good decisions? One hopes we can turn to economists for help and indeed many excellent economists offer much sage advice. But in evaluating arguments, it is useful to bear in mind the lack of a code of ethics for economists. The absence of an ethical code for economists is drawing more attention. Indeed, 2011 started off with a significant book arguing that economists should have a code of ethics. The Economist’s Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics, by George F. DeMartino.

Published by Oxford University Press, the book’s promotional page explains the issues in terms that are useful to keep in mind as an overview:

"Economics is today among the most influential of all professions. Economists alter the course of economic affairs and deeply affect the lives of current and future generations. Yet, virtually alone among the major professions, economics lacks a body of professional ethics to guide its practitioners. Over the past century the profession consistently has refused to adopt or even explore professional economic ethics. As a consequence, economists are largely unprepared for the ethical challenges they face in their work.

The Economist’s Oath challenges the economic orthodoxy. It builds the case for professional economic ethics step by step-first by rebutting economists’ arguments against and then by building an escalating positive case for professional economic ethics. The book surveys what economists do and demonstrates that their work is ethically fraught. It explores the principles, questions, and debates that inform professional ethics in other fields, and identifies the lessons that economics can take from the best established bodies of professional ethics. George DeMartino demonstrates that in the absence of professional ethics, well-meaning economists have committed basic, preventable ethical errors that have caused severe harm for societies across the globe. The book investigates the reforms in economic education that would be necessary to recognize professional ethical obligations, and concludes with the Economist’s Oath, drawing on the book’s central insights and highlighting the virtues that are required of the "ethical economist."

The Economist’s Oath seeks to initiate a serious conversation among economists about the ethical content of their work. It examines the ethical entailments of the immense influence over the lives of others that the economics profession now enjoys, and proposes a framework for the new field of professional economic ethics."

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