I wrote this about a month ago, but decided not to post it because it sounded a bit like a personal rant. Following the Brexit result, and more introspection among economists about what more they could have done, I think this basic point is worth making
When I complain about the media ignoring economic ideas or economics generally, I’m told that economists - and academics more generally - must learn about PR. Indeed it may be my moral responsibility to do so. When I wrote about how other social scientists made useful criticisms of economics, but were often ignored because it was couched in language economists did not understand, I was told that economists should learn that language. And when I said in my post on Mirowski that he knew more about the history of economics and neoliberalism than I did, Lars Syll says I should educate myself. Note that in none of these cases am I saying there should be no engagement from economists: all three examples come from cases where I did attempt to engage.
In economics we do not just learn about opportunity cost, we also know about comparative advantage and the division of labour. It makes sense to set up systems (in production, trade, research or other things) where people do what they are good at, rather than just do a bit of everything. In academia people specialise for good reasons. To understand the macroeconomy better it really is sensible that I spend most of my time reading macroeconomic research rather than doing PR, reading sociology or the history of economic thought. Note I said most, not all.
That does not mean that we all become isolated in our own little worlds of knowledge. Indeed I think both good research and good application often benefits from some breadth of knowledge. But I think it beholds those of us with some knowledge to try and communicate it in terms that are easy for outsiders to understand, and avoid them having to read our literature. That is why I try to avoid jargon in my blogs unless I only want to communicate with other economists. If policymakers want macroeconomic advice I do not tell them to go read some article or change their policies before I’ll talk to them - I just give them advice.
To some it seems terribly arrogant if you say I do not have time to read a new literature, or cultivate relationships with journalists, particularly if you work in that literature or you are a journalist. To see why it is not arrogant just turn it around: how would that person feel if I said you had to start reading a lot of macroeconomics literature. I never say that, but write blogs instead, and put a considerable effort into doing so. To be told that in addition I have to learn the arts of PR as well as reading other literatures is not only annoying, it makes no economic sense.