The Economist's ranking of the most influential economists of 2014 has been derided, and Tyler Cowen provides a more sensible list. But I wonder: which economists should be more influential than they are?
The glib answer here is: whoever corroborates my prejudices. A less glib answer would be the countless economists who are doing good work which is insufficiently appreciated by the public: I try to publicise some of this in both here and in my day job.
But there's another answer I'd like to offer: those economists who have been working in the field of complexity economics. Perhaps the pioneer here is Brian Arthur, who has written a great short introduction (pdf) to the subject. But I'd also mention Eric Beinhocker*, Cars Hommes, Alan Kirman and, in financial economics, Andrew Lo, whose theory of adaptive markets I find an attractive alternative to the efficient/inefficient markets hypothesis.
One feature of complexity economics is that recessions can be caused not merely by shocks but rather by interactions between companies. Tens of thousands of firms fail every year. Mostly, these failures don't have macroeconomic significance. But sometimes - as with the Fukushima nuclear power plant or Lehman Brothers - they do. Why the difference? A big part of the answer lies in networks. If a firm is a hub in a tight network, its collapse will cause a fall in output elsewhere. If, however, the network is loose, this will not happen; the loss of the firm is not so critical. Daron Acemoglu has formalized this in an important paper, and there are some good surveys of network economics in the latest JEP.
The question is: why is complexity economics not more influential?
One reason is that it requires different techniques. It can't be studied merely by problem sets (ugh) devoted to standard optimization techniques. Instead, it requires agent-based simulations (here are a couple of examples), laboratory experiments of the sort done by Charles Noussair among others, or close attention to history and the institutional and cultural settings in which markets operate.
And therein lies a second reason why complexity economics is under-rated. For me, one of its big messages is that context matters. Emergent processes sometimes lead to benign outcomes and sometimes instead to inequality and inefficiency, and which turns out to be the case can hinge on quite small differences. The great economists of the 20th century - such as Keynes, Samuelson or Friedman - tried to offer a general theory. Complexity economics doesn't.
There's a third reason why complexity economics is under-rated. It does not give us a means of foreseeing the future. Of course, conventional economics doesn't do so either. But the difference is that complexity theory tells us that such forecasts might well be impossible - which is not what the customer wants to hear. The best it can do is help us understand what has happened. And for me, this is good enough. As someone once said, "Economists have only changed the world; the point, however, is to understand it."
* The Origin of Wealth is like Marx's Capital or Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow; it gets a lot better once you get past the first 50 pages or so.