The Economist’s Oath

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Economics is today among the most influential of all professions.  Economists alter the course of economic affairs and deeply affect the lives of current and future generations. Yet, virtually alone among the major professions, economics lacks a body of professional ethics to guide its practitioners. Over the past century the profession consistently has refused to adopt or even explore professional economic ethics. As a consequence, economists are largely unprepared for the ethical challenges they face in their work.

The Economist’s Oath challenges the economic orthodoxy. It builds the case for professional economic ethics step by step—first by rebutting economists’ arguments against and then by building an escalating positive case for professional economic ethics. The book surveys what economists do and demonstrates that their work is ethically fraught. It explores the principles, questions, and debates that inform professional ethics in other fields, and identifies the lessons that economics can take from the best established bodies of professional ethics. The book investigates the reforms in economic education that would be necessary to recognize professional ethical obligations, and concludes with the Economist’s Oath, drawing on the book’s central insights and highlighting the virtues that are required of the “ethical economist.”

The Economist’s Oath seeks to initiate a serious conversation among economists about the ethical content of their work. It examines the ethical entailments of the immense influence over the lives of others that the economics profession now enjoys, and proposes a framework for the new field of professional economic ethics.

In The Media


Journal of Economic Literature 2011, Sharon Oster
International Review of Applied Economics 2014, Sheila Dow
Review of Political Economy 2012, Robert F. Garnett
Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics 2011, Julian Wells


“Can anyone doubt that economists need a good dousing in ethics?  George DeMartino does just that.  He does so, not in anger, but with the calm and persuasive tone of an author who knows his subjects and gives full airing to those who may disagree.  He has written a book on ethics that is itself ethical.  It is a valuable and novel contribution to a profession that keeps repeating its errors.  How do we make them listen?” –Jeff Madrick, author of The Case for Big Government

“DeMartino has broken with the economist’s oath never to discuss oaths.  It’s about time.  Economists are taught in graduate school that about ethics one should not dispute, which gives them a warrant to ignore ethics in their science.  The teaching is philosophically naive and politically silly.  A science of the economy, and certainly an economist advising the prince, depends on ethical commitments, such as the elementary one to seek the truth, or to do no harm, or to support democracy, or to help the poor.  DeMartino has courageously opened the conversation, with a masterful command of economics and of English style.” –Deirdre N. McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce and The Cult of Statistical Significance

“In The Economist’s Oath, George DeMartino reminds us that what economists do matters deeply-economic policies and interventions affect the rights, opportunities and life chances of people everywhere. This book should provoke careful consideration by economists, human rights advocates and others of what it means to be an ‘ethical economist.’” –Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, founder and President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative

“In The Economist’s Oath George DeMartino presents the elements of professional ethics, notably principles of prudence and autonomy well-known to doctors and engineers, and he demonstrates their neglected relevance to economists. Careful, respectful and  without rancor or rush-to-judgment, this beautifully-argued book is a warning about economics today and a challenge to economists to come.” –James K. Galbraith, The University of Texas at Austin and author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too

“Economists matter. They have influence and power; what they do affects people’s lives. With influence comes responsibility. All too often economists don’t even consider those responsibilities. They should, and this book will help them do so.” –David Colander, CAJ Distinguished Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Middlebury College

“Economists rarely seem to think about the ethics of their profession. This book makes a powerful case as to why they should and what professional ethics would mean.” –Dean Baker, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

“The economics profession today faces a crisis of confidence and identity.  This partly stems from a blindness to ethical factors in economic policy advising and making.  The Economist’s Oath is a major contribution to the necessary rethinking of professional economic conduct.” –Robert H. Nelson, University of Maryland

“It is remarkable that the economics profession has failed to produce a code of ethics. The Economist’s Oath is a wake-up call not only to professional economists but to everyone who relies upon their judgment and advice-in short, to all of us.” –James K. Boyce, University of Massachusetts, Amherst