From the back cover of one of my all-time favourite baseball books, Ball Four:
When Ball Four was first published in 1970, it hit the sports world like a lightning bolt. Commissioners, executives, players and sportswriters were thrown into a state of shock. Stunned. Scandalized. The controversy was front–page news.
Sportswriters called Bouton a Judas, a Benedict Arnold and a "social leper." Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to force the author to sign a statement saying that the book wasn′t true. One team actually burned a copy of Ball Four in protest.
Bouton wrote about his experiences as a "social leper" in the sequel I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally. I had my own, much, much smaller version of Bouton's experiences after the publication of David Suzuki needs an economics refresher course (including being called a Judas!) and I have to admit, I didn't care for it.
I received well over 100 e-mails in the first 24 hours after the piece were released. Some were supportive, many were civil but disliked the piece but others can only be described as hatemail. "I hope you die in a fire" and that sort of thing. Normally that stuff doesn't bother me too much, but the sheer volume got to me after awhile. I read about three dozen e-mails then deleted the next 80 or so, so I have no idea how supportive or vile they were.
Fortunately Ivey has been terrific through all of this. I can only assume that a number of complaints went to the school. One of my superiors stopped me in the hall and said "what did you say this time?!?". My sister, who also works at Ivey, heard quite a bit of scuttlebutt about the piece and joked that she's been telling people that we're not related.
The environmental movement has been less supportive. I received e-mails from someone claiming to represent Greenpeace who told me that I "hate my daughter and the world I'm leaving behind from her" and another from someone in the Green Party of Canada, who knew I was formally with the party and called me a "Judas". I can't imagine I'll be invited to any GPC events any time soon.
The weirdest was one guy who kept calling and hanging up when I would answer. One time he called in the wee hours of the morning and I didn't answer (because I was sleeping) and left a highly critical, but non-threatening, voicemail. Wish I knew who it was but they didn't come up on call display.
My disillusionment with the environmental movement
I was told a few times that Suzuki's views do not represent the environmental movement as a whole, which for the most part respects the work of economists. That's true but not entirely comforting. It would be a lot easier to fight these misconceptions if environmentalists were making the same arguments. But they have remained silent, further leading to the impression that there is a true rift between environmentalists and economists.
An environmentalist I have a tremendous amount of respect for commented that there is nothing to be gained by getting into a 'bun fight' with Suzuki. Naturally I disagree. Suzuki is the most well-known and credible environmentalist in Canada (heck, he has a highschool named after him), so naturally his word carries a lot of weight. And it is not as if these claims he are making are new - he has been making them since at least the 1980s. By leaving these comments unchallenged, it cements the idea that environmentalists and economists are perpetually at odds and one must make a choice between protecting the environment and respecting mainstream economic thought. Ultimately that is a contest that the environmentalists are sure to lose - if people are forced between voting for "jobs" or voting for "environment", 9 out of 10 will pick jobs. The Conservatives have been using this phony dichotomy quite effectively in their talk of 'job killing carbon taxes'. This strategy would be a non-starter with a populace that was better educated in environmental economics.
Where economists have failed
The economics profession has to assume a large portion of the blame here. It is easy to mislead the general public on what economists believe about the environment because the general public does not know what economists think about anything. It is our failure as Canadian economists for not developing a figure as well-known and respect as David Suzuki to represent us. It is inherently an institutional failure - our tenure system rewards academic publications first, second and third and puts almost no weight on outreach. Economists, like anyone else, respond to incentives.
One commenter responded that I could not credibly discuss the economics profession because I work and have a Ph.D. from a business school and therefore am not a "real economist". Surprisingly, I do not wholly disagree. As an untenured B-school Prof who spends most of his time in the private sector and prefers taking consulting jobs over writing academic papers I am an odd choice to be the voice defending academic economics departments. But, ironically, that is also what makes me able to do so. Business schools put far more emphasis on media relations than do economics departments and since I am not actively seeking tenure, I do not need to worry that time in the media is taking away from time spent publishing.
I think this needs to change. We would all be better off if economics departments recognized the value in outreach and educating the public when making hiring and tenure decisions.