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Noah Smith

How Wonks Became Oracles

Macro economists are the oracles of our time.
It's a habit we can't seem to break.

It's a habit we can't seem to break.

Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A while back, I suggested that one reason economists get more respect than sociologists is that they have a better command of statistics and other technical skills. But I think there’s also another reason the public is obsessed with economists. It’s because economists, like the shamans and oracles of yore, offer people the hope of understanding the mysterious titanic forces that shape our lives. I’m talking, of course, about Macro.

When I say “Macro,” with a capital “M,” I mean all of the powerful and unpredictable economic forces that buffet the economy. Macro includes macroeconomics -- the booms and busts of gross domestic product, unemployment and inflation. It also includes macro finance -- the big swings in stock and bond prices, the sudden rise of commodities or real estate as popular asset classes.