What is the role of an economist in public debates?

Dani Rodrik is racking up a string of interesting posts in his first week in the blogosphere:

Can the wrong answer in the classroom be the right answer in public debate?…

[Greg Mankiw’s] position seems to be this: Look, these anti-trade guys don’t understand comparative advantage anyhow, and it is pointless to waste our breath trying to explain it to them. So let’s instead argue our case in “their” language and within “their” framework. Never mind that Professor Greg Mankiw would flunk us if we ever gave the same answer in Ec. 10.

I am not sure I like this stance very much. For one thing, it goes against the grain of what I think is the most important job of economists in public debate–to educate and not simply to be an advocate. Second, it is bound to backfire, and ultimately undercut the credibility of economists…

Many of my colleagues are of the view that economists should just stick to their bottom line, and not “confuse” the public with the caveats and limitations of their arguments. Moreover, since anti-market views have enough supporters out there, economists often see their role as one of unqualified advocacy of the opposite position. I tend to disagree with this, which is why I am often accused of “giving ammunition to the barbarians.”

More here.

Activity here at Trade Diversion has been light recently due to the fact that I am on holiday. Regular content provision will resume Wednesday.