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View Full Version : Would I Be Allowed to Think and Say As I Please?



YoungEconomist
08-03-2007, 01:31 AM
There is a particular issue that bothers me from time to time, and I wanted to get some feedback on the topic. Hopefully, someone may even have personal experience which would definitely add to the discussion.

Let me start by mentioning two things, so that everybody knows where I am coming from. After I go to graduate school and receive a PhD, I plan on going into either academia or consulting (or maybe even some combination of the two). I am open to doing something else if I discover that it's a better fit for me, but currently these are the 2 most likely options. Second, I am currently a pretty strong believer in the power of markets and free-enterprise, and would definitely consider myself a libertarian. Similarly, I am willing to change my mind if in the future I learn that my personal opinions are wrong. But for this discussion assume I am a still a libertarian when I graduate and enter the work force.

Let's say I go into consulting. Would I be expected to do research (or maybe even testify) in a way that is not congruent with my personal beliefs?

Let's take a few hypothetical examples to be sure you understand what I'm talking about. Let's say I am working for a consulting firm. And let's say that the government hires us/me, because they want to show that government intervention is required in a particular area to protect consumers. Or, let's say a company hires us/me to do some research about trade. Is it possible that this company would tell us/me that we need to show that it would be beneficial to use some tariffs to protect domestic workers and domestic consumers? In both these situations, I may disagree and believe that the government should not get involved, or that this company's trade restrictions will harm consumers.

I guess I just don't completely understand how consulting works. Do you find the same diverse mix of economists that you find in academia? And if so, are these people allowed/expected to speak their mind to business executives, government officials, and jurors? Are these economists expected to do honest research even if it may not support the agenda that someone is trying to push?

No matter what my personal beliefs will be in 10 years, I just want to make sure I have a job where I can express myself, think for myself, and speak my mind.

TruDog
08-03-2007, 02:34 AM
Having worked for the federal government, I can tell you that there is substantial political pressure to come up with findings congruent with what the policymakers want.

Fortunately, no matter what your political beliefs, there are corporations/government entities/think tanks out there that will share your core beliefs. So you'll still be able to approach topics from a free market perspective and have clients.

Karina 07
08-03-2007, 02:46 AM
Don't get me started about my friend who works for a consulting company in which he is pressured to find problems that coincidentally the company happily has a solution for, all for the low fee of....

KingOfConvenience
08-03-2007, 02:59 AM
i suspect that the higher you value holding onto your beliefs publicly and keeping your hands "clean", the smaller your set of job options are. in fact, academia is one of the few places you can "speak your mind" with minimal repercussions (but even this isn't always so!).

i believe that in any private sector job, you will be asked to perform tasks that aren't congruent with your world-view. i think most people face this challenge in their lives to some degree or the other. i suspect the existence of a variety of corporate/company environments that will allow you to make an acceptable choice. some companies have no soul (by which i mean the environment is individualistic, hyper-competitive, and overly career-focused); don't expect much sympathy for your desire to stay true to your beliefs here. i don't think you'd get fired, but you will not enjoy your situation, and you will find your progress within the firm impeded by your moral inflexibility. on the other hand, there certainly are other places for you to work where the penalty for your scruples is minimal. if anything, perhaps the real world of economic consulting work will soften your libertarianism into a careful and experiential realism!

quantwanabe
08-03-2007, 06:43 AM
. Second, I am currently a pretty strong believer in the power of markets and free-enterprise, and would definitely consider myself a libertarian. .

You bring up an important issue youngecon. If you get a chance, watch the documentary, Enron: the smartest guys in the room. In the documentary there is a discussion about the deregularization of the electricity market in california. Free-entreprise is maybe good in some cases, but in others not so well.

falco123456
08-03-2007, 11:25 AM
Every good free market economist should also remember that markets sometimes fail...

calcox
08-03-2007, 01:47 PM
I had a professor who did consulting for local governments. He said that he would give his results to the client and let them decide what do with it (publish it, hide it, shred it, whatever) but he would not alter his conclusions to suit their liking. In the long run, the integrity of your work is more important than any one client.

I think this is true whether or not you agree with your client's agenda. I've worked on projects for clients who had agendas I liked and agendas I didn't like, but in either case your integrity has to come first.

YoungEconomist
08-03-2007, 02:44 PM
Every good free market economist should also remember that markets sometimes fail...

I do not know of any good free-market economist that denies market failures. At the same time, they're often sceptical that many of these failures can be fixed by government intervention.

But anyway, that's not important right now because it's not what this thread or this forum is about. I'm just curious about any pressure to conform out there in the job market.

snappythecrab
08-03-2007, 03:44 PM
I suspect working as a corporate economist may not be the best for you. I'd consider doing freelance consulting while being a prof, which should allow you to push your own agenda without fear of being fired.

VA_LAC
08-03-2007, 08:46 PM
I asked my dad, and engineering consultant, about freedom of opinion. He said that, in the corporate environment, consultants are generally hired to make the best case for their client's interests. Companies who hire academic consultants also have similar expectations. He said that if those expectations are not met, they hire someone else.

quantwanabe
08-03-2007, 11:07 PM
. At the same time, they're often sceptical that many of these failures can be fixed by government intervention.



Which sometimes is sad because government intervention often has some political agenda.

KingOfConvenience
08-05-2007, 03:53 AM
it amuses me that as a bunch of economists we don't apply our model of humans to ourselves. ethics and integrity is bollocks in the corporate world. the corporation is going to maximize their objective function by choosing at least these two variables: reputation of consultant (higher degree helps, more cases won helps) and cost of consultant, with the budget constraint reflecting the expensiveness of reputation. To the extent that integrity enters the objective function of the corporation, integrity is rewarded in the market. But for what purpose would a corporation care about "personal integrity" if the person has a reputation of delivering? do you think people are concerned about the personal integrity of top lawyers when they hire them? they are concerned with results.

i'm not advocating such social irresponsibility, merely pointing out my, perhaps pessimistic, take on the question of integrity in the consulting world, one that has been somewhat informed by insiders.

asianeconomist
08-05-2007, 04:01 PM
This conversation reminds me of a quote from my favorite TV Show (Yes Minister)

Hacker:We are discussing right and wrong. Humphrey:
You may be, Minister, but I'm not. It would be a serious misuse of government time.

quantwanabe
08-05-2007, 10:09 PM
it amuses me that as a bunch of economists we don't apply our model of humans to ourselves. ethics and integrity is bollocks in the corporate world. the corporation is going to maximize their objective function by choosing at least these two variables: reputation of consultant (higher degree helps, more cases won helps) and cost of consultant, with the budget constraint reflecting the expensiveness of reputation. To the extent that integrity enters the objective function of the corporation, integrity is rewarded in the market. But for what purpose would a corporation care about "personal integrity" if the person has a reputation of delivering? do you think people are concerned about the personal integrity of top lawyers when they hire them? they are concerned with results.

i'm not advocating such social irresponsibility, merely pointing out my, perhaps pessimistic, take on the question of integrity in the consulting world, one that has been somewhat informed by insiders.

As long as the agenda in place can be fulfilled for whatever reasons, wheter its for money or ideology, I am sure many consulting firms won't care about "personal integrity" issues if they know others would not know about it.