The Tragic Science: How Economists Cause Harm (Even as They Aspire to Do Good) (Hardcover)

The Tragic Science: How Economists Cause Harm (Even as They Aspire to Do Good) By Professor George F. DeMartino Cover Image

The Tragic Science: How Economists Cause Harm (Even as They Aspire to Do Good) (Hardcover)


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A forceful critique of the social science that has ruled—and damaged—the modern world. 

The practice of economics, as economists will tell you, is a powerful force for good. Economists are the guardians of the world’s economies and financial systems. The applications of economic theory can alleviate poverty, reduce disease, and promote sustainability. 

While this narrative has been successfully propagated by economists, it belies a more challenging truth: economic interventions, including those economists deem successful, also cause harm. Sometimes the harm is manageable and short-lived. But just as often the harm is deep, enduring, and even irreparable. And too often the harm falls on those least able to survive it. 

In The Tragic Science, George F. DeMartino says what economists have too long repressed: that economists do great harm even as they aspire to do good. Economist-induced harm, DeMartino shows, results in part from economists’ “irreparable ignorance”—from the fact that they know far less than they tend to believe they know—and from disciplinary training that treats the human tolls of economic policies and interventions as simply the costs of promoting social betterment. DeMartino details the complicated nature of economic harm, explores economists’ frequent failure to recognize it, and makes a sobering case for professional humility and for genuine respect for those who stand to be harmed by economists’ practice.

At a moment in history when the economics profession holds enormous power, DeMartino’s work demonstrates the downside of its influence and the responsibility facing those who practice the tragic science.
George F. DeMartino is professor of international economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. 
Product Details ISBN: 9780226821238
ISBN-10: 0226821234
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: July 26th, 2022
Pages: 272
"Economics may be the science of trade-offs, yet economists are too ready to sweep under the rug the ethical trade-offs their practice entails. As DeMartino argues, these trade-offs arise both because economists claim more knowledge than they actually possess and because their preferred policies often cause irreparable harm for some people. DeMartino lays out a profoundly challenging agenda for economists—one for which there are no simple remedies yet must be confronted nevertheless."
— Dani Rodrik, coauthor of Combating Inequality: Rethinking Government's Role

"DeMartino sounds the alarm on how much damage economists can do out of paternalism and hubris. He issues a clarion call for economists to embrace ethical principles that oblige them to consider the harm they may do."
— William Easterly, author of The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor

"This thoughtful dissection of the moral hubris of economics reveals simplistic and self-serving assumptions. Rather than offering some magical cure, it points to the need for greater ethical engagement with the often perilous practices of economic policy."
— Nancy Folbre, author of The Rise and Decline of Patriarchal Systems: An Intersectional Political Economy