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The Reformed Broker

The age of the rock-star economist is (mercifully) ending

In the trough of the great recession, America clung to a new breed of rock-star economist. Thankfully, that time seems to be ending.

By Joshua M. BrownGuest blogger / April 9, 2010

The marquee for the Newseum's upcoming Elvis exhibit is seen at the Newseum in Washington, on March 9. Fortunately, the time for worshiping at the altar of rock-star economist seems to have ended.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo/File

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There was a time when every other post on Clusterstock was a synopsis of commentary from a 'name-brand' economist.

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There was a time when we all shared links to the latest pronouncements from Ivy League econ departments.

There was a time when countdowns were chanted into each PPI or ISM release.

And in the midst of all this armchair econophilia, a short, dark and handsome NYU professor with a name like a famous magician captured our hearts.

It was 2008 - and in our certainty about the lack of certainty, America fell in love with the new breed of Rockstar Economists.

As recently as a year ago, The Great Roubini's traveling prognostication show was pulling in 6 figures per engagement and publishers were hunting down any theorist with an oddly-colored animal to base a string of predictions on.

Economists were one-downing each other with plummeting targets on a host of surveys and measures in an effort to make Abelson's column or even earn a trip to Englewood Cliffs for a Squawk Box appearance.

A mythical, beard-stroking wizard named Charles Nenner was regularly appearing on CNBC, making ludicrous statements about his spoon-bending predictive powers with a straight face while the enthralled anchors strained to keep themselves from rubbing his head and making wishes.

The Rockstar Economists were photographed paparazzi-style with their arms around models, chillin' hard at ski lodges from Aspen to Davos. Their every email missive was blogged and tweeted and re-blogged and re-tweeted. Each TV appearance was dissected and harvested for meme-worthy nuggets and the prophetic visions on which their brands had been built.

It was good to be an economist - some would even say it was sexy.

But no more.

We've lost interest in the diviners of our economic destiny.

Because not only did most economists miss the crisis, they committed the even more pernicious sin of missing the recovery, essentially taking the Dismal Science to quadriplegic status from its prior condition of being merely hobbled.

Whether the future holds a double dip or an expansion, we've learned that economists' tools and methods will hardly show us the path, let alone provide us with a coherent navigation.

Enough has been written on the failure of economics by those in a better position to critique the discipline than I. I'll simply state that Economist Punditry is the Appendix of Financial Television - always there, normally harmless and almost completely ignored - until it explodes.

And like the treatment of appendicitis, most of the offending organs of television economics should be removed from the air before they can do any fatal damage.

I know how I spent my last few Thanksgivings - listening to my aunts and uncles debate the virtues of The Austrian School or quibble over the prospects of a successful Keynesian Solution to our current woes. These are people who wouldn't pick up a book about money unless Donald Trump was on the cover. Something tells me the topic of this years' conversation will be quite different.

The public is no longer infatuated with academics dressed in bedazzled jumpsuits, throwing out targets like bingo numbers. And we will not miss them.

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