By Wei Zhimin, scholar in Beijing
On March 10, Sichuan Kelun Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. Chairman Liu Gexin dropped a "bombshell" during the recent parliamentary sessions in Beijing: "It has already been proved that the judgment of mainstream economists is useless. We need to set up an independent non-governmental institution to investigate the subject, and meanwhile phase out some economists." (China Times reported this on March 11).
I think that the key question lies in what on earth do the terms "mainstream economics" and "mainstream economists" refer to. Economists who take up leading positions in academia or media circles, and economists who do their research work through theory of mainstream economics, can both be called mainstream economists. However, we should draw a cautious distinction.
In China, the title of "economist" tends to be accorded by media, rather than as a result of any kind of competitive process. In fact, China has no "economists". Those who appear in the media and talk about economic issues a number of times find themselves considered to be "mainstream economists". They are the kind of people who are famous and interested in commenting on economic issues, quite different from true mainstream economists.
It is fine that some economists make full use of media to promote ideas on economics and economic reform. The problem is that their behavior and views are not objective; they may be unprofessional or even lacking a sound ethical base. Of course, some economists who insist on thinking independently and present conclusions that do not coincide with public opinion are likely to find themselves subject to criticism.
Criticism of economists is also an indication of intensified social contradictions in present-day China. For a long period of time China has taken economic reform as a key element of our work. Therefore, opportunities for economists to comment have steadily increased, and many scholars in such fields as political science and sociology have been commenting in the name of so called "economists". However, with the development of intensified social contradictions, more problems are appearing – problems such as poverty, unemployment, and social security issues, which seem to be closely related to the economy and economics. There is a public expectation that economists should comment on these issues and put forward solutions.
In reality this has resulted in an over-promotion of economists. The opinions of economists cannot be decisive in giving the lead on social matters, and not all hues of opinion can be highlighted and promoted.
The right way to introduce academic competition in the academic circles is to phase out the government-directed economic research institutes and research activities while supporting independent research institutes. But meanwhile, we should beware of the tendency to abandon mainstream economics.
(China.org.cn translated by Ma Yujia, March 17, 2009)