The gutting of economics as an anti-state force by fear of offending the powers

Why has economics, the most potent potential political force in history, become to most people an incomprehensible and seemingly pointless exercise, or the mysterious incantations of an anointed priesthood conversing with one another in their own secret language?

The following quotes from a recent biography of economist Ludwig Von Mises shed light on this question and also helped me more clearly understand why I chose not to continue in the academic economics track in the early 90s, and not to enter graduate school, but instead to continue studying on my own.

Even as an undergraduate, I was politely “guided” toward “more practical” directions than my study of classic treatises in Austrian economics in the Mengerian tradition onward, a discipline that is eminently comprehensible and offers clear policy prescriptions. Fortunately, the college culture was “free thinking” enough that I was able to continue on my course and still complete my degree (that’s why I had chosen the college to begin with, in fact).

The discussion below is about the 1920s (emphasis mine).

“Because of this ostracism of genuine economists, those who held (or hoped to hold) academic positions in political economy became eager to avoid any behavior that could offend the powers that be. The most innocent strategy was to understate one’s findings when they risked upsetting certain powerful social groups.”

“In a similar vein, an increasing number of young economists turned their attention to abstract and technical problems that did not have any political implications unwelcome to their employers. This helps explain the success of mathematical economics, econometrics, Keynesian economics, and game theory after WWII.”

The transformation of economics into a self-absorbed technical discipline made it politically toothless. A mere ‘theory’ based on fictitious stipulations and therefore without scientifically valid implications for public policy was no threat to vested interests, and the champions of this theory did not have to fear reprisals. Clearly, this state of affairs suited the majority in the economics profession, both employers and employees. But it was disastrous for science, human liberty, and economic progress.”

Hülsmann (2007), Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, pp. 549-552.