Philip Greenspun thinks it might be a good idea to send all of America’s economists away for a few years:
In reading opinions regarding the U.S. and state economies from professional economists and in talking to these folks face-to-face I’ve never heard any of them say anything clear enough for a voter to act upon. For example, suppose that the U.S. owed 800 percent of GDP, like Greece (see this NY Times article (the U.S. figure is around 500 percent, though we’re not as centralized as European countries and there is almost surely a lot of state-to-state variation)). An accountant would say “You’re spending more than you earn. You have to stop or you will run out of money.” After hearing that, voters and politicians might be able to get together and agree on some spending cuts (not the trivial ones that they’ve managed so far). Perhaps even Californians would be able to agree that their cities could be run into bankruptcy just as competently by managers who earned no more than the President of the United States earns, that a qualified fire chief could be hired for only the same salary as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and that a police lieutenant need not receive 3X as much as a U.S. Army infantry lieutenant in combat in Afghanistan.
Instead of accountants in public discourse, however, we have economists. So our problems are not recognized as arithmetic challenges, e.g., “How can a society with a median wage of about $16 per hour afford to pay local and state government workers $100-200 per hour (and then pay them for another 50 years after they retire)?” or “How can teenagers who score lower than their Chinese counterparts on every measure of educational attainment be relied upon to pay for 130 million poor and older Americans to receive unlimited medical services in the world’s most expensive health care system?”