The role of economists, and plumbing
We’re sometimes accused of sitting in an ivory tower, feet up and writing in abstract terms about all kinds of things that are not directly relevant to the real world.
Well, there are academics like that, and there is certainly value to doing fundamental research that will be an important input more applied work done by others, but there are also many others.
For instance, they do consulting, and I have the impression that companies or institutions attach great value to this. There is nothing wrong with that, I believe, as long as it stays within limits and they keep doing research and keep teaching. To the contrary even, I see great potential that this will make them better teachers and researchers, because there teaching and research becomes more relevant to practice. Or they are involved in policy design and designing institutions within the scope of projects financed by third parties.
In a recent essay, Esther Duflo from the MIT has argued that attention to detail is not only interesting but really needed and useful. She suggests that economists should be more like plumbers. Worth reading, especially also for Ph.D. students who are making up their mind about the direction they want to go in.