Yesterday, I questioned George Osborne's economic competence. In one sense, though, it is a little unfair to single him out. Back in the summer, Ed Miliband wibbled that "we won’t have the money" and pledged to "balancing the books in the next government" - a promise which means excessively tight policy, unless the economy grows surprisingly strongly.
But it's not just on fiscal policy that both main parties are distant from economic orthodoxy. Economists' consensus that immigration is (mildly) good (pdf) for the economy isn't exactly echoed in political debate. The main parties believe unthinkingly that organizations are best run hierarchically by a "strong" leader, oblivious to economic evidence on the virtues of cooperation (pdf) and decentralized decision-making. And except for a silly speech by George Osborne, the main parties seem (I may be wrong) not to be engaging with the idea of secular stagnation - the possibility that trend growth will be permanently lower.
I suspect that there is a greater distance now between the political parties and economist than there has been for years.
In the late 70s, the Tories adopted monetarism. In the 90s, New Labour was seriously interested in the economics of globalization, education, stabilization and growth. Today, there seems much less traffic from economic research to politics.
You might think this isn't a wholly bad thing. Many ideas are not worth adopting - monetarism perhaps being an example - and there's something to be said for politicians being sceptical about fashionable new ideas. This, however, doesn't justify politicians' lack of interest in the settled, established knowledge that economists do have.
So, where is there such a gap between politicians and economists?
The fault might partly lie with economics. Many academics aren't as interested in closing the gap between academia and the "real world" as they should be. At least some of the discipline was discredited by the crisis, and I get the feeling that there aren't so many good new policy-relevant ideas now.
It might be that the voters are to blame. Maybe they don't want serious politicians who are interested in good ideas but rather, in our narcissistic age, they simply expect their demands to be met, however unreasonable. But is this the whole story? Janan Ganesh thinks not:
There is...an unsatisfied demand for seriousness and leadership. Most people do not vote Ukip or parse an MP’s tweet for class meaning. The flight to frivolity in public life is not the voters’ doing. Many are in fact waiting for a leader to arrest it.
This leaves a third suspect - the media. 20 years ago, it mocked Ed Balls for speaking of "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory." Such philistinism has not diminished. Quite the opposite. Political journalists have been complicit in creating a hyperreal bubble of mediamacro which perpetuates witless ideas (such as conflating the economy with the deficit) to the exclusion of such good ones as might exist.
I'm not sure, then, how exactly to apportion blame for the divorce between politicians and economists. But I do suspect that, net, it is a bad thing.