Primum non nocere, first do no harm. This is a good pledge for a medical professional, and would be a great pledge for a policy analyst, but it doesn’t make much sense as a pledge from an economist – as we don’t actually make decisions, we frame situations and describe trade-offs.
However, this does not mean that economists do not have some sort of moral obligation associated with their analysis. In order to cover this off Robin Hanson discusses the “efficiency economist pledge” (ht Robbie A). :
I pledge to be an efficient economist, who helps clients find win-win deals to resolve social conflicts.
Reading the full pledge, it seems that the goal is to use economic advice to provide the client with the knowledge and tools they need to get what they are after.
This is as opposed to a moral principle I have heard discussed by Eric Crampton which pertains specifically to doing work for government. Namely that when there is a difference between the social optimality of a policy and the policy that suit policy wonks, it is not right to provide advice that specifically benefits your client at a cost to broader society. [Do I have this right Eric?] Update: Eric lays out his view more fully here.
If I have described Eric’s additional moral requirement appropriately, then my main counter to this has always been “it isn’t the economists fault that they are taking the incentives involved, it is just an illustration of government failure”. The illustration should be made more apparent IMO, but I do not blame analysts for acting in their self interest.