Who knows if Truss or Sunak is right on the cost of living crisis – where are all the economists? | Simon Jenkins

Lower taxes? No, hand out handouts. Opt for growth? No, fight inflation. Increase debt, reduce debt. Raise interest rates, lower them.

Until recently, two members of the same cabinet seem at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Both studied economics at Oxford. They must have attended similar conferences and read the same books. What is their problem?

During the financial crash of 2008, the Queen paid a rare visit to the London School of Economics. She turned to her teachers and asked the nation-eating question: Why didn’t anyone see it coming?

Economists were appalled. It was not their job. Everything was very complicated. The math was wrong. When they later wrote to the Queen, they confessed to “a failure of the collective imagination of many brilliant people” and “a psychology of denial”. If the queen had been a real monarch, she would have fired them all.

We now face a disaster similar to 2008. The causes may be unforeseen – Brexit, Covid and sanctions against Russia – but it is economics’ job to guide politics through these risks and uncertainties. The modeling should be able to handle 13% inflation, a quadrupling of energy prices and a collapse in the public sector job market. Economics calls itself a social “science,” but its practitioners hover around the ailing economy like medieval doctors, vying for leeches for potions.

During the Covid pandemic, academic virologists instantly rallied for help from the UK. Options were evaluated, solutions modeled and tested. When anti-vaxxers and others attempted to shut down accepted science, debate ensued, consensus was formed, and policy guidance was clear and evidence-based. Only time will tell how right that was.

The latest dispute between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss centers on whether it is better to face the cost of living crisis with caution and help for the most needy, or by cutting taxes and “aiming for growth”. “. Both can’t be right. Truss says his “£30billion headroom” makes his plan to cut taxes plausible. This seems reckless, especially given the Times calculation that the figure must be closer to £80billion. But there is no proof offered. His argument is supported by rhetoric and cliché.

YouGov may suggest that 64% of the public are for Sunak’s docs and caution solution and only 17% for Truss, but how can they be informed? A subject essential to all walks of life is now barely taught in schools. The economics I studied in college became a slave to math and became irrelevant. Boris Johnson appears flanked at press conferences without the presence of government economists or expert committees. Neither Truss nor Sunak can argue for social “science”. As in 2008, economics is an absent profession without leave.

Britain’s prime ministership is decided not on a show of policies and ideologies, but by two politicians from the same party in a bitterly disagreeing primary election. Their argument has them flying free, rubbing against each other without their audience being able to understand a word they say. Where is the Queen when we need her?

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