… is from page 88 of my colleague David Levy’s and Sandra Peart’s new (2017) book, Escape from Democracy: The Role of Experts and the Public in Economic Policy:
[W]hen economists came to impose material efficiency as the norm to judge all economic choices, they closed the door to an examination of the messier but nonetheless important arenas for choice: of the institutional arrangements that constitute the superstructure of our choices. At the same time, they enlarged the scope for the economic expert qua engineer to come into the fray and advise policy makers about how to obtain efficiency.
DBx: Not all modern economists ignore institutions, or pay insufficient attention to them. But far too many modern economists are guilty of this awful oversight. Failure to examine what David and Sandy above refer to as “the superstructure of our choices” (which, I would argue, includes also the ideas that people have and convey to each other through language) naturally promotes shallowness and narrowness of thought about economic reality. Many foregone alternatives – costs – are never noticed.
The existing economy is seen to be a machine in need of tinkering, maintenance, and repair by “expert” economists – who, today, are informed by very impressive amounts of empirical data about the operation of the existing economic machine. Yet these expert economic diagnosticians, maintenance men, and repairmen are blind to the organic nature and overwhelmingly spontaneous origins of what they wrongly see as a machine.