Dr. Cowen, over at the always worthwhile Marginal Revolution, wonders who might be a member of the clergy and an economist, all at the same time.
Cowen and friends manage to rattle off lots of clergy/economists, starting with various medieval gentlemen and drawing a more or less abrupt halt somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century. Apparently, there exist few modern luminaries, unless you want to count such like <gag> Pat Robertson. If you meander through the comments, there seems to be a distinct odor of “faintly puzzled” in the air. This isn’t helped by the occasional “BINGO!” from someone who suddenly recalls an obscure Jesuit professor at Boston College.
So where have all the modern clergy/economists gone?
Dear me. Have we forgotten our Durkheim? We live in an era of increasing social specialization; subsequently, we live in increasingly complex societies. It used to be possible to be an expert in more than one thing; nowadays, if you’re an expert in one thing, the odds are pretty good you have a hard time even holding a conversation with an expert in another thing–unless, of course, you’re both Yankees fans. (Then, frankly, you can both just go to hell.)
They’re not just no longer here; members of their respective occupations have forgotten how to talk to each other, too. Economists, if they’re decent people, tend to be ideologically humanistic. If they’re not decent people, they worship numbers.
On the other hand, most clergy couldn’t find their way through a statistical modelling paper to save their souls. Most aren’t humanists, and most don’t really like numbers, let alone worship them. To a clergyman, Greek letters make up Greek words, not mathematical expressions. So they tend to absorb their economics from whichever politician expresses the right positions on moral issues–hardly an ideal methodology.
How’s this going to affect our ideological development? Here’s an idea: if what we (as a society of professionals) believe is shaped at least in part by what we know, and much of what we know is no longer professionally common ground–then we resort to a lower common denominator. We relate on the basis of trivia–something that, in the end, matters much less to any of us.
In Derek Jeter we trust.