Q: What Do Economists Do?

A: Make a lot of graphs.

A Post reporter discusses the economy with two economists from Washington-based think tanks, Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute and Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute. At one point Bernstein asks Hassett, “You ever have your kid ask you what you do for a living? It’s much easier to explain if you’re a policeman or a teacher. She definitely understands that I make a lot of graphs.”

I think most economists in Washington would agree.

A slightly different question, “What should economists do?”, was the subject of James Buchanan’s presidential address to the Southern Economic Association some 40 years ago. (See Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 30, January 1964, pp. 213-22.)