Who are the most influential economists?

Everyone is up in arms over the list supplied by The Economist.  I won’t go through those debates.  Let me just note that for all the talk of wonk this, data that, and Generalized Method of Moments this that and the other, every now and then the best algorithm is simply Asking Tyler Cowen.  So here are, in no particular order, the most influential economists circa 2014:

1. Thomas Piketty

2. Paul Krugman

3. Joseph Stiglitz

4. Jeffrey Sachs

5. Amartya Sen

Basta.  Of course Yellen and Draghi are extremely influential as central bankers, but in the way Paul Volcker was, so that is a different list, albeit a more important one.

I would add several comments:

a. Piketty does very very well for marginal impact in 2014, but probably would/will do less well over broader time spans, even if you think his work will hold up.

b. Krugman is a clear winner for the United States.

c. Stiglitz, Sachs, and Sen have most of their influence outside of the United States.

d. Larry Summers is influential among economists and the intelligentsia and is one possible choice for number six, with Dani Rodrik as another, or maybe drum up the leading Islamic theorist on sukuk.  But Summers is not so influential with casual observers, which in some ways puts him as the opposite of Stiglitz (in his current incarnation).

e. There is no right-wing or center-right economist on the list.  See the EJW symposium on why there is no Milton Friedman today.  Krugman is probably the most politically conservative figure among the top five.

f. Behavioral economics as a whole is quite influential, but with no single dominant figure of influence.  In actuality Cass Sunstein (not formally an economist) and Richard Thaler might globally be #1 in the behavioral area, followed by Daniel Kahneman.


Who is the most influential American gentile economist?

Why would there religion matter?

Mr. Sailer's comboxes are a collecting pool of people obsessed with other people's Jewishness, among other bad odours. The Unz Review panders to this constituency, as does the American Conservative, though more so re the latter when Scott McConnell was the editor. Philip Giraldi wrote for both, of course, as does Sailer.

I see you are new to Steve Sailer.

Huh? What? Too many big words.

Why Tyler Cowen, of course.

Eugene Fama. People actually act in his work.

Thomas Sowell, natch.

Dr. Sowell at his most scholarly is an intellectual historian. His dissertation and academic journal publications are on the history of economic thought. He also did some applied research for the Urban Institute. He has a public audience due to his synthetic works, teaching texts, and columns (the last of which encompass much more than economic questions). He's a teacher with a public audience, not a generator of original work in theoretical economics or empirical research.

I'm pretty sure Thomas Piketty isn't Jewish, so since he's #1 overall, there's your answer.

I just realized you said American, but nationality shouldn't matter.

That's all well and good, but could we simply ask Tyrone instead?


It is a sad state of affairs when Krugman is the most conservative. Considering the inability of any of todays economists to understand or do anything about the great stagnation and "Joe Median" getting the shaft, at a time of exponentially increasing opportunities driven by exponentially increasing scientific knowledge. Conventional thinking like stimulus or austerity or tax cuts, etc. haven't worked. Deflation is irrelevant and we have been living with deflation in the electronic sector for half a century but people keep buying knowing that it will by half the price for a constant performance in two years.

The low hanging large fruit may have been harvested, but the tree is rapidly growing and we are standing on the shoulders of giants within easy reach of a bountiful crop far more numerous fruit. However, we can only harvest the tree in the permissionless sectors, with all other sectors being forbidden by existing interest, regulators or bureaucrats.

I hope your PhD isn't in economics.

"Mr. Weaver, your brilliant mixing of metaphors leaves us no choice but to award this PhD in Comedic Rhetoric. Godspeed."

I'm calling this one at LEAST a 100 posts...

@msgkings - I agree, about the only time we agree. 100+ posts.

on e. why there is no M. Friedman

Here's something of interest from the econ comic book writer Blundell:
And Rose never felt in awe of Milton. When asked if she ever felt over-
shadowed she answered: “No. I’ve always felt that I’m responsible for at least half of what he’s gotten… I feel that I have much of the responsibility for his success” (Robinson1999). While Milton is best known as a monetary theorist (his license plate was “MV PT”!), and as proponent of the all-volunteer army through his work for President Nixon, school vouchers, and market ideas generally, he commented that his 1957 book A Theory of the Consumption Function was “my best purely scientific contribution"

There you go. Rose was the force behind Milt, and Friedman himself says some obscure variant of the Cobb's power law logarithmic type consumption function was his greatest work. Reminds me of a chess grandmaster who wrote the winning move of one of his brilliant games on his tombstone, which any modern chess engine can solve in a few seconds. T. Cowen btw thinks there's "peak economists" (he is riding on his own trend, a form of brand differentiation) so that's why only lesser lights shine now (like TC himself?!). As for me, I believe the masses are the greatest economist. We should crowd source monetary policy, with free banking. Just like the Comments section of a post are often better than the actual post (especially when I post), so too crowd sourcing is better than a central bank, unless you believe the theory--which is also true--that central banks usually just follow the crowd anyway, and when they don't bad things happen that force them to follow the crowd. HNY.

+1 Formula for the number of comments on this based on past performance using the name of economist as variable:

Total number of comments (TC)= 60 x Krugman + 30 x Piketty - 15 (Piketty and Krugman appear in same comment) + 10 Stiglitz +5 Cochrane + error term

Krugman?!?!? ARRRGGHGHHGHGHH!!!!!

Don't sweat it. When they say influential, they don't mean influencing reality. This is equally true of Piketty and Krugman.

All they mean is that these people created a lot of fodder for bloggers to write about. Spewing nonsense will do that very nicely. This is equally true of Piketty and Krugman.

I would like to see Daron Acemoglu on the list.


I think he didn't make it because the media in which his name is mentioned for computation--Twitter accounts--have difficulty spelling his name.

The metric The Economist used is also sensitive to your name being in the news during a specific period.

I would not recommend this, but if any economist wants to make the list, I suggest they get involved in a sex scandal. Not saying you should do it, but every Tweet counts.

Raghuram Rajan?

I think that the influence of Stiglitz and Sachs mostly has to do with their ability to say what is plainly in front of us when it is plainly in front of us. They get out of narrow technical questions and bring together many fields, and do not hesitate to mention the obvious existence of an interest group and its obvious mechanitions to influence politics in ways which are often considered as corrupt. They are also good academics, but so are a lot of academics.

Sen is a brilliant philosopher (recall the origins of economics in "moral philosophy", with Adam Smith being a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh), and has also mastered all the mathematics of the field, although he rarely puts the math to much use.

Is Krugman influential? He has a high profile thanks to his column but what impact does he have on public policy? Same goes for Piketty

I'd vote for Greg Mankiw and Scott Sumner. Mankiw's textbooks will have done far more to shape the mindset of past, current and future econ grads than any number of columns, books and development initiatives by the likes of Krugman, Piketty and Sachs.

In terms of the UK, Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have been the most influential in recent years, Stiglitz and Krugman the ones whose recommendations have been found to be wanting.

Krugman probably caused the cancellation of the Japanese consumption tax increase, and may therefore have caused the latest Japanese election. I dunno if Mankiw's books have had any influence at all on how undergrads think - if influence stretches beyond verbal formulations of commonly-held economic principles.

What is in Mankiw's textbook that Krugman doesn't agree with? Probably nothing or just some minor tweaks he would make if he had to rewrite the book himself. The problem with having the 'gig' of being the author of the intro textbook is that your ability to really influence is inhibited by the fact that you have to stick mostly to the core material. That works for you if you're Paul Samuelson, who also created a lot of the core material himself. If you're not then you're just recounting other people's insights.

Hence textbook gigs are not sufficient to salve the massive Krugman-envy which sadly afflicts many economists.

Textbooks: Krugman (among other items of influence) v Mankiw (only influence)

Same substance in either's textbooks, this in spite of different perspectives in their other public writings.

Krugman is a much better prose writer though (textbook much more marvelous). He's a member of the Galbraith school of persuasive argument by way of great prose and rhetoric, rather than thoroughgoing reason.

Does Krugman have a intro textbook? If you're comparing his popular writing well that's the freedom he has that Mankiw doesn't. In an intro textbook, Mankiw has to devote maybe 80% of the writing to detailing out the standard cannon stuff. Krugman is free veer purely to the persuasive writing in his column. Even worse for Mankiw, he is obligated as textbook writer to spend a lot of time on Keynesian analysis so Krugman has on a few occassions been able to cut down Mankiw's persuasive pieces by simply citing his own textbook against him!

"Does Krugman have a intro textbook?"


Which you would know if you:
- did a few seconds of research
- had the most cursory knowledge of the debate you are jumping into
- read the post you are replying to

Rogoff and Reinhart were influential, true, but only by telling the rich what they wanted to hear. You do know, I hope, that their work on National Debt is pretty much discredited ?

I know that there was a pretty embarrassing spreadsheet error discovered in their work--last I checked, though, that only weakened the force of their conclusions. You're the first I've seen to call their work "discredited."

Would I be correct in presuming you find Piketty to have been discredited as well, then?

He's not the "first" to call their work "discredited" but that's only because there are plenty of people in the world suffering from confirmation bias.


How much of the US economic policy in the coming decades will be decided by the interest payable on the debt?

How much of EU policy will be decided on it's members ability to meet their debt obligations?

How much of Japanese economic policy is decided by it's enormous debt burden?

How much of the US Fed policy over the last few years has been driven by controlling the cost and ability to borrow of US debt?

Rogoff and Reinhard made the mistake of trying to make hard and fast rules. They were expressing what any wise person has always known; debt has enormous benefits up to a point, then it becomes THE problem.

So an unlimited amount of debt is OK? Because R+R had a spreadsheet error?

Yup. Debunked. Let's never speak of them, or the issue, again.

You seem to be aiming for influence on the broad population. By that standard Krugman and Piketty deserve to be on a list of two for 2014. Piketty won't last though.

Nobody else was really in the same league. It's not worth trying to pick another. Kenneth Rogoff? Not in 2014. Weidmann? Seems like tokenism. Classical liberal ideas were very influential in 2014, but you're right, no particular spokesman was very.

Stiglitz, Sen and Sachs are ludicrous suggestions. Maybe Sen is influential among Indians? I doubt it. Sachs and Stiglitz influential outside the US? Are you joking? Trying to pull a fast one on your mostly American audience figuring they won't know better?

Sen's work on capacities and functionings have been critical to the design and monitoring of the MDGs, which are THE international development framework for all of the poorest countries.

And the other two you mention resonate very well in Europe and many other places where are less ideologically bound to markets (and never mind the nearly endless list of US hypocrisies in this regard), and instead view them as a fact of life which is useful for a lot of things.

Millennial development goals that's like so 15 years ago.

I lived in Europe 18 years till 2011. Never once heard anybody mention Stiglitz. Sure he's known among economists, but that's a totally different kind of ranking, and even for that he's a bit stale to be making a 2014 top five list. The Nobel was in 2001.

The notion that Europeans are less free-market than Americans is so outdated. Europe has been dominated by the center-right for most of the last thirty years, and when and where not, mostly by the market-reformist wings of Social Democrats, or grand coalitions. Up north they mostly elect the equivalent of sane moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats, of the kinds that can hardly win American primaries anymore. Kinda boring but generally competent. Down south it's a pure patronage racket with partisan bells and whistles.

I'm always amused how the left in America asserts that the US has two right-wing parties. The American definition of liberalism is far to the left of liberalism in Europe. The Democratic party can probably best be compared to the Labor party in the UK or the SDP in Germany; social-liberalism with an obsession for a strong centralized state beyond democratic control. No wonder there are no classical liberal economists in that list, there's no political home to generate demand for one.

I’m always amused how the left in America asserts that the US has two right-wing parties.

Because the only people they wish to debate are Clinton-style Democrats. See the condition of the social science division in most arts-and-sciences faculties.

Is that why the US has single payer health care, five weeks of paid vacation, strong unions, national day care, free higher education, co-determination corporate governance laws and excellent mass transit?

You're point is what? That we do not have French labor law ergo the condition of public debate within the universities is hunky dory?

My point is that the American "left" really isn't all that left-wing when compared to Europe.

That's so like, today. The goals are with respect to 2015. Now is the time to take stock and set new goals.

I agree that notions that Europe is anti-market and US is pro-market, in such tidy divisions, is outdated, and moreover probably was never even a particularly accurate portrayal given the extensive roles of the US government in supporting the development of many of its most successful industries.

The only times that US is more statist than Europe is when doing so pleases conservative voters: subsidization of private automobile transportation and anti-density zoning regulations (a lot of conservative really don't want "those people" moving into their neighborhood).

You can maintain long-haul Interstates with tolls. It will set back drivers about $9 bn a year, in a country where personal consumption is in excess of $10,000 bn a year. You wish to pay for public roads with excises on motor fuels. Fine. It will set back motorists in my home town about $800 per man-vehicle per year (which will be sheared off their property and sales taxes). While we're at it, the mean benefit received by households enrolled in the Food Stamp program is $3,500 per year.

The average person getting food stamps is receiving $133 a month or so or about half the figure you are citing.

46M Americans have food stamps at the moment, so that is a lot. However there are about 250M vehicles in the US at any given moment...and since most cars and trucks are not very useful offroad the highway system as well as local roads (almost all funded by the gov't at some level) are a great benefit to the owners of those vehicles as well as those who indirectly rely upon goods and services provided by them.

Automobile transportation is subsidized in several other ways, including minimum off street parking zoning regulations, free on street parking and a widespread refusal to enforce vehicular manslaughter statutes. And that's not including the failure to correct for all of the negative externalities that automobiles impose on society.

"You seem to be aiming for influence on the broad population."

If that's the case, nobody is influential at all. The broad population has no idea who Picketty might be, maybe a bike racer or soccer mid-fielder. Even the celebrated Krugman is an unknown quantity to anyone without a subscription to the dying joke that publishes his political clap-trap. Miley Cyrus and George Clooney are more influential with the hoi polloi than any economists.

C'mon, who is influencing policy? Not Picketty not Stiglitz. Dead economists are still the most influential. There is little worth less than a live economist.

Allow me to suggest that it is a stupid question, fitting to the Economist's level of maturity.

On the lack of prominent conservative economists, I think it might be due to conservatives presently lacking trust in academia, and preferring to trust business leaders.

That's funny because 'conservative economics', which I assume means trusting competitive markets a lot, is premised on 'business leaders' NOT being especially insightful or trustworthy. In fact, Adam Smith famously declared that any meeting of notable businessmen should be assumed to be a conspiracy against the public.

What you're describing sounds more like 'Putin economics' or 'crony capitalism'

Edmund Burke, "In the grove of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows." Quite prescient in view of 100,000,000 killed during the 20th century in Red China, USSR, Cambodia, etc. central planning, collectivism, command economies, the dictatorship of the genius . . . the road to Hell.

An enduring, and harmful, tragedy is that Americans cannot look back and see 200 years of mixed economy. We can have tax since the 18th century, but tax is for them "a slippery slope to genocide."

No, a mixed economy made us great.

In fact all the free and rich nations are market democracies, with mixed economies.


Can we remove from the 'mixed' part: state ownership of potentially competitive enterprises, public housing, rent control, delivery of medical services by public agency (bar in the military or remote areas), delivery of schooling via public agency (bar for a modest minority who are incorrigible), industrial planning, government as venture capitalist, rococo income tax codes, miscellaneous preferences incorporated into property and consumption taxes, property taxes in slum neighborhoods, property taxes on forest land, farm subsidies, open-ended subsidies to higher education, long-term cash doles for working-aged and able-bodied people, ever more lax definitions of 'disability', retirement ages which take no account of old-age mortality rates, subsidies for the purchase of miscellaneous low-order commodities (e.g. groceries and rental housing), the entire 'social work' 'profession', third-party payments for psycho-'therapy' and such atrocities as sex-'change' surgery, state-mandated lumpy benefits for employees, state-mandated price floors for wage labor, state mandates which have lawyers second-guessing every provider's decisions in the realm, of hiring, promotion, leasing, and the extent of their custom...????

Well, no, that's where the term 'mixed' comes from. The US version of capitalism is far from pure laissez faire unhindered or affected by the state. It's also far from pure communism/socialism. So, 'mixed'.

It also never existed. Before there was Social Security you had the Bank of the United States and the Federal gov't promoting the expansion (and possible bubble) of railroads by land grants. Public schools are a legacy of religious institutions which predate modern capitalism from the days of feudalism and before. A pure 'free market' economy is a useful micro-economic model just like assuming frictionless motion is a useful model of motion and forces for physics. If you want to talk about potential tyranny keep cultivating the idea that our duty is to mold humanity to the model rather than the reverse.

Anarcho-capitalism never existed. As recently as 1929, the ratio of public expenditure to domestic product in America was 0.08, of which two-thirds were expended by state and local government. Governments at all levels were running surpluses and paying down debt.

public expenditures are the only measure of gov't involvement?

Land grants were about literally allocating over half the land of this country in a time when land was a major factor of production. Today how much influence does FHA/Fannie Mae have on how our economy looks even though that is either not even in the budget or a very minor line item? Let's not even discuss the Federal Reserve least the tin-foil hat mob start coming out.

Even more ironic in a communist country you'd probably find public expenditure to be rather modest. Since there was no unemployment there would be little need for 'safety net' spending like unemployment insurance. Since housing was assigned, gov't need not spend a lot building roads and transit lines out to where people live, they could just assign them to live near existing lines. So by your view it would be hard to tell any difference between the US of today and the USSR of 1953!

Equating the policy position of academic economists like Paul Krugman to Cambodia or the USSR is about as sensible as comparing the public statements of 'buisness leaders' like Donald Trump to the rise of Adolph Hitler.

I'd add Robert Shiller to the list (and to Cowen's list of behavioral economists). I haven't yet listened to the symposium on why there's no Milton Friedman today (Cowen participated, so I'm particularly interested in his view), but I will suggest that it's politics: many of today's right of center economists seem motivated more by political considerations than policy considerations. Why political considerations? My view is that right of center economists today are so focused on micro that their influence (outside academia) is by necessity limited to political considerations. That's not intended as a criticism of micro, but rather an acknowledgment that the public has little interest in micro. Of course, Piketty's view about micro and those who focus on it (expressed at the end of his book) is rather harsh. As for Krugman, I will acknowledge his influence, but I abhor his approach to his critics (which is ridicule).

"Who are the most influential economists?" Smith, Ricardo, Bastiat, Keynes. Things'll get better when Hayek can be added to that list.

"not formally an economist": what formal events must one undergo? Is it like joining a "frat"? (But presumably without the false rape allegations.)

Krugman is barely an economist, he was only given his PhD due to departmental political circumstances at MIT.

Yeah, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize because he was a socialist.

I think you mean "notorious."

Simply proves the old adage, "In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king."

Paul who?

Thomas who?


Shiller should probably be in the top ten. Very well known within Finance and Economics (especially with his Nobel), and I think because of the house price index that has his and case name he has broader recognition/credibility.

I also feel that Freakonomics has a broader impact on generalized thinking, while not pushing in a general direction. I will not strip Levit' and Dubner apart, because without, Dubner, Levit'ts high quality work does not get widespread recognition.

Jim C

How about Eugene Fama. many people buy index fund partly because of his work.

I buy indexes, but because of Shiller :-)

I buy indices, but because of John Bogle. Let's not forget the role of a good pitchman in making a sale.


Bogle founded The Vanguard Group in 1974. Under his leadership, the company grew to be the second-largest mutual fund company in the world. Influenced by the works of Eugene Fama, Burton Malkiel, and Paul Samuelson, Bogle founded the Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1975 as the first index mutual fund available to the general public.[5] He continues to be active in The Vanguard Group.

Eugene Fama is on there.

Incorrect. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Alfred Marshall, John Maynard Keynes, Ronald Coase, and Milton Friedman (just off the top of my head) are all more influential today than the Lilliputians on your list, thankfully.

Q: What do you call famous conservative economists?
A: Rich.

Q: What do you call famous liberal economists?
A: Richer.

I would guess that the average wealth of the famous economists on Tyler's list, who fight so vocally for the rights of the poor, is north of 1,000x- 10,000x the average wealth of the poor whom they fight for. And I would guess that these economists enjoy their Manhattan apartments without worrying too much about it.

Err... So what?

Calling out the wealthy elite that cannot understand the conditions of the working man of the street has been a fine tactics for populists of both sides, but I still fail to see how it has any relevance to the quality of their contributions to debate.

You think they'd be dogmatic advocates of open borders if the repairmen who fix the HVAC system in their building were friends rather than pairs of hands?

Are the influential economists correct in their diagnoses of how social relations play out? Will we know within a generation?

I think you could have called John Kenneth Galbraith an influential economist at one time. In more than 50 years of publications, you'd be hard put to find one in a scholarly venue, Paul Krugman has bluntly referred to him as a hack, and Thomas Sowell has offered reminiscences that his teaching was entertaining at first impression but thin on substance. Bradford deLong generated a mess of working papers at the National Bureau of Economic Research during the period running from 1986 to 1993, but after a stint working in the Treasury department, largely ceased academic research in favor of op-ed generation. Even Krugman largely ceased scholarly publication about seven years ago (around age 54). Maybe 'influential' is not something you should aspire to be, at least in real time.

There is no right-wing or center-right economist on the list. See the EJW symposium on why there is no Milton Friedman today. Krugman is probably the most politically conservative figure among the top five.

Is not that a reflection of the composition of the political class? Are any of these other figures a frothing-at-the-mouth op-ed sectary? Does it bother professional economists that their most 'influential' exponent is just that?

Just curious about the Krugman conundrum! There are many partisan politicians who don't like Krugman's political position. That is understandable. But there are serious economists including Williamson (now working for Federal reserve), and many Chicago economists who do not consider Krugman an economist at all! As a trained economist (I did my Ph.D. in economics from Manchester University, UK) I find that weird and bizarre. Cowen, Sumner etc are much more serious in their policy positions with respect to Kurgman's. So my guess would be, some economists will always, and would like to, be known/ famous by their positions as "anti-Krugman." Thanks!

Rule of thumb. Follow what he said if said before 2000. Do the exact opposite if he said it after the year 2000.

What about Varian (too inside the Google machine?) or Levitt (past peak or too dependent on a sidekick?)?

Varian. Great suggestion indeed. Maybe too technical for the list though.

From 2010 to 2014, the US government CAPB as a percentage of the GDP has declined by more than 4 points. To a lesser extent, the same has happened in the EU. France and Brazil are now embracing fiscal tightening and pursuing deregulation policies. Besides some circumstantial hiccups, global trading shows no signs of a slowdown. The fiscal component of Abenomonics has become a hot mess. Projects of "global reforms" a la Picketty seem as utopian today as ever.

Perhaps these guys are the most influential economists, but it seems their influence is highly constrained when it comes to actually influencing public policy.

Looking at the economic policy -in toto- of developed countries in recent years, I'd venture Sumner might very well be the most influential economist alive.

Yup. Considering the hot mess that macro has been since 2007, Sumner and the market monetarists seem like the guys who have had an impact on central bank policies.

Guys who talk about digging holes and filling them up get laughed out of the room.

Economics is very influential but is if you're looking for influential individual academic economists that is one unpersuasive list.

Odd though that the economists who've made it to positions of real power/influence are by definition excluded from the list!

I certainly agree that Freidman is a better economist than Paul Krugman. If multiple Nobels were awarded Friedman would have at least a couple. But why wouldn't Krugman's work on Japan and liquidity traps be Nobel worthy? Or am I just overly influenced by Krugman's self promotion?

Is anyone going to mention Ha-Joon Chang? So far as disseminating ideas goes, he's doing well.

This is a list of economists, not trite political hacks.

Here's what Google Trends has to say:

Tyler Cowen's list: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=%2Fm%2F05zmgmc%2C%20%2Fm%2F01tk43%2C%20%2Fm%2F0g_61%2C%20%2Fm%2F0206rn%2C%20%2Fm%2F0djqc&geo=US&date=1%2F2014%2012m&cmpt=q

Economist list (first 5)

These results use "entity search" which tries to identify the specific entity one is referring to rather than just the string of words. Search is restricted to US 2014.

The Economist magazine restricted the time period for the 90 days prior to Dec 11, 2014. Google Trends only allows monthly granularity, but here are the results. Gruber is clearly the leading search during that period.


It depends on what you mean by influential. Currently influential among the chattering classes? Piketty and Krugman. Influential among other economists? Daron Acemoglu is probably more influential than anyone in the short lists. Influential for all time? Smith, Ricardo, Marshall, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman.

Mankiewicz has to be on the list.

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