The field of economics has taken a beating over the past couple of years. For all their brilliant models and complex analyses, most economists completely failed to predict the disastrous outcome of the housing bubble. Was the problem simply a feature of an imperfect discipline or the result of biases on the part of many economists that made them blind to the truth? Those who have too much faith in the field of economics to give the former possibility much credit might advocate for a potential solution to the latter possibility: develop a code of ethics for economists.
Sewell Chan from the New York Times reports that the American Economic Association will soon propose enhanced ethical standards for academic economists. Currently, they are not always required to explicitly state all sources of income and funding that could cause bias to creep into their work. For example, does an economist consult for an accounting firm, investment house, or Fortune 500 company? If such influences are transparently presented, then those who are looking at an economists' work may do so with a warier eye.
Indeed, in other disciplines, such codes of ethics are common. Chan writes:
Universities and medical schools have tightened disclosure requirements and conflicts of interest policies for scientists, engineers and doctors in recent years, and the main professional associations for political scientists, sociologists and psychologists have all adopted ethical codes.
If economics is a science, shouldn't economists face the same ethical demands as other scientists? Even if it is only a mere social science, shouldn't they follow the lead of sociologists and psychologists? Indeed, in many situations, economists' work is even more likely to be pushed in one direction or another due to outside influence than that of other scientists and social scientists. There's often a lot of money at stake in either business or politics depending on what the wisest economists in the land claim to be truth.