Charles Ferguson is the director of Inside Job, a documentary about the financial crisis. The opinions expressed are his own.
Both Glenn Hubbard and Laura Tyson (pictured above, left to right) have played major roles in American economic policy, and both also, unfortunately, exemplify the disturbing, opaque conflicts of interest that pervade the economics discipline.
Over the last thirty years, academic economics has been penetrated by special interests, particularly financial services, in the same way that America’s political and regulatory systems have been compromised by campaign contributions and the revolving door. In fact, the “revolving door” is now a triangular trip between industry, government, and academia.
Prominent economists are now routinely paid to testify in antitrust cases, criminal trials, and regulatory proceedings; to testify in Congress; to give speeches to the industries and firms they study; to serve on boards of directors and as advisors; and to write supposedly objective analyses of industries, companies and policies. These payments and the conflicts of interest they generate are rarely disclosed, except when required by Federal law.
These activities are not marginal; they are now, literally, a billion dollar industry, managed by firms such as the Law and Economics Consulting Group (LECG), The Analysis Group, Compass Lexecon, Charles River Associates, and others. Professors’ income from such groups often dwarfs their academic salaries. That neither universities nor most publications require such disclosure was one of the most shocking facts I learned while making Inside Job, my documentary on the financial crisis.