… is from page 266 of my late Nobel laureate colleague Jim Buchanan’s profound January 1989 Business Economics article, “On the Structure of an Economy,” as this article is reprinted in James M. Buchanan, Federalism, Liberty, and Law (2001), which is volume 18 of the Collected Works of James M. Buchanan:
And it is but small exaggeration to say that the core of our discipline [that is, economics] embodies the understanding that the observed results of economic process emerge without conscious design while at the same time they describe an order that is amenable to scientific analysis.
DBx: Note that Buchanan’s description of the core of economics can, by changing only one word (“economic” to “biologic”), serve as an excellent description of the discipline of biology. Like good biologists, good economists understand – often to the point of being in utter awe – that complex and vast order emerges unplanned from countless individual and local events within a highly competitive process. And just as good biologists understand that they and others are not designers – and could not possibly be designers – of the astonishingly complex orders that they describe and analyze, so, too, do good economists understand that they and others are not designers – and could not possibly be designers – of the complex orders that they describe and analyze. And scientists in both disciplines understand also that intervention into any one part of the order is far more likely than is recognized by casual observers to disrupt parts of the order that seem – again, to these casual observers – to be unconnected to the part that is manipulated.
Unfortunately – both for the discipline of economics and, worse, for the world – far too many economists are not good economists. Far too many economists believe, or suppose, that complex economic order is really a rather simple set of relationships the structure of which can be improved by conscious design.
In brief, far too many economists do not really understand the nature of the phenomena that they study. Far too many economists are to economic phenomena what creationist biologists would be to biologic phenomena. Professional biologists, of course, properly hoot such creationists out of their profession. Professional economists, in contrast, often applaud and award the economic creationists in their midst.