The End of Economics?

Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Policy:

In 1998, as the Asian financial crisis was ravaging what had been some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the New Yorker ran an article describing the international rescue efforts. It profiled the super-diplomat of the day, a big-idea man the Economist had recently likened to Henry Kissinger. The New Yorker went further, noting that when he arrived in Japan in June, this American official was treated “as if he were General [Douglas] MacArthur.” In retrospect, such reverence seems surprising, given that the man in question, Larry Summers, was a disheveled, somewhat awkward nerd then serving as the U.S. deputy treasury secretary. His extraordinary status owed, in part, to the fact that the United States was then (and still is) the world’s sole superpower and the fact that Summers was (and still is) extremely intelligent. But the biggest reason for Summers’s welcome was the widespread perception that he possessed a special knowledge that would save Asia from collapse. Summers was an economist.

During the Cold War, the tensions that defined the world were ideological and geopolitical. As a result, the superstar experts of that era were those with special expertise in those areas. And policymakers who could combine an understanding of both, such as Kissinger, George Kennan, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, ascended to the top of the heap, winning the admiration of both politicians and the public. Once the Cold War ended, however, geopolitical and ideological issues faded in significance, overshadowed by the rapidly expanding global market as formerly socialist countries joined the Western free trade system. All of a sudden, the most valuable intellectual training and practical experience became economics, which was seen as the secret sauce that could make and unmake nations. In 1999, after the Asian crisis abated, Time magazine ran a cover story with a photograph of Summers, U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and the headline “The Committee to Save the World.”

In the three decades since the end of the Cold War, economics has enjoyed a kind of intellectual hegemony.

More here.