Which professions have ethics?

I've started reading The Economist's Oath: On the Need for and Content of Professional Economic Ethics by George DeMartino (a review will follow in the next day or two). So far, it's not clear to me what the criteria are for a profession needing ethics. The author makes it clear, by the way, that he's not talking about a code of conduct – a set of 'how to' rules for behaviour in specific circumstances – but rather a set of “intellectual and pedagogical practices and traditions.” In other words, economic ethics should be parallel to medical ethics, not like the 'customer service' promises from your bank.

This set me wondering – why economists? DeMartino goes on to talk about government economists and IMF economists making decisions that affect many people's lives. The government hires lots of policy experts of different kinds. Do they all have/need professional ethics too? And while doctors have professional ethics, medicine has both more direct and better understood effects on specific people. Economics is not (yet) an experimental science, and much of medical ethics pertains to conducting experiments. Economics is more like geology, evolutionary biology or astronomy in relying on 'historical' evidence and inductive reasoning. Do geologists have or need professional ethics?

Surely the author isn't arguing that economists need professional ethics because they were wrong about the economy before the financial crisis? We're wrong about all sorts of things. Being ethical and being right are clearly distinct. Besides, if we're assigning blame for the crisis, I think the bankers should be centre stage, not the economists.

More to follow when I've finished the book.


One thought on “Which professions have ethics?

Comments are closed.