Here’s something I’ve been trying to say for a year, poorly. Skidelsky in his new book, Keynes: The Return of the Master, says it succinctly:
Whenever anything goes badly wrong, our first instinct is to blame those in charge–in this case, bankers, credit agencies, regulators, central bankers and governments. We turn to blame the ideas only when it becomes obvious that those in charge were not exceptionally venal, greedy or incompetent, but were acting on what they believed to be sound principles: bankers in relying on risk-management systems they believed to be robust, governments in relying on markets they believed to be stable, investors in believing what the experts told them. In other words, our first reaction to crisis is scapegoating; it is only by delving deeper into the sources of the mistakes that the finger can be pointed to the system of ideas which gave rise to them.
As the crisis fades and everyone turns their attention elsewhere, I don’t want to forget the lesson learned: what we know about economics is incomplete. Even more, no serious student of economics can now claim that any of the current “systems of ideas” are more than simplistic, directional models. No one knows nothing, and the people who claim to are fooling themselves.