Who Is An Economist?

Can someone be an economist, without a Ph.D. degree in the subject? The unwritten rule in USA is: No.

This can get awkward. The chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is, in effect, the country’s economist-in-chief. But when Jerome Powell was appointed to this position in 2017, the press widely called him “not an economist” for the reason above.1

Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Board Chairman
Jerome Powell, [not?] economist

In other academic disciplines, this convention is not followed so slavishly. Among historians, for example. The late Barbara Tuchman comes to mind as a famous case. She only ever earned a B.A. degree. But the press — and other scholars — didn’t question her status as a real historian.

Or consider the field of psychology. The USA has tens of thousands of therapists whom we call “psychologist”, but who typically hold the degree of M.A., not Ph.D.

Or suppose you earn a B.A. degree in geology, then go to work for an oil company, exploring for petroleum. You may call yourself “geologist”, and nobody will look askance at that. Ditto the B.A. chemists who work for that oil company.

But the guild of Ph.D. economists jealously protects its brand, so it seems.

By adding the qualifier “occasional” in front of “economist” in this blog’s title, I intended to convey the idea, that I do not claim to be an academic. Rather, I suggest to you that I have acquired some economic insights over the course of two careers, one in the business world, and before that as a financial journalist. In this blog, I offer these ideas for your consideration. More at the About page.


  1. Example: “Mr. Powell is a lawyer, not an economist, but he served in the George H.W. Bush Treasury Department and has obtained extensive central-bank experience serving on the Fed’s Board of Governors.” Editorial, Washington Post, 2 Nov. 2017

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