Only the oldest readers and perhaps a few antiquarians will remember Helen Hokanson. She was a cartoonist for The New Yorker long ago whose specialty was suburban matrons in flowered dresses saying things that we, but not they, found funny. The particular cartoon I have in mind shows a typical Helen Hokanson lady in conversation with several Navy sailors, all in blue uniforms and round white caps. She is saying, “How do you tell one another apart?” What brought all this to mind was reading the autobiographical essays in this book. There is no such problem for economists: they come in enormous variety, apparently no two alike. Some are breezy, some formal, some in between; some are technical, some are meditative; some are men and some, at last, are women. They are very easy to tell apart.
They do, however, have rather similar ideas. Economists and civilians come at problems in distinct, recognizable, even stereotypical ways. That is not incompatible with great diversity within the profession. We call it a “discipline” for a reason, after all. It is supposed to put some limits on “anything goes.” From the outside, some of those limits seem pretty narrow.