Economists catch a lot of flak because they make mistakes in forecasting future economic trends. If a Nobel prize-winning economist misses the mark in aiming at the future, he or she is assumed to be totally worthless after all. Many of the issues concerning the public's conception of economics and economic policy stem from an abysmal lack of understanding of economic analysis in the first place.
To begin with, just as cats are not a generic breed, with every cat in the world born the same color and body conformation, so a multitude of economists with different perspectives exist. We have Keynesian economists, who believe that government spending is necessary to fill gaps in a recessionary economy to prevent a collapse of the economy. We have monetary economists who believe that government economic policy can be magically controlled by pegging various economic indicators to changes in the money supply. We have libertarian economists who hate the government and believe that a totally "free enterprise" economy is the answer. We have labor economists, econometricians (who use statistics and mathematics to forecast the future and analyze the economy, consumer economists, agricultural economists, financial economists, and economists who specialize in virtually every field of economic study.
I guess you could say that I am a Keynesian economist, although I did not know at my young tender age of 24 when I entered the economics doctoral program at the University of Michigan that a Keynesian economist was what I was destined to become. As the years have gone by, I am thankful that I am a Keynesian economist. Most of the mistakes being made today by policy makers devoid of even a smidgen of understanding of economics are basic Keynesian mistakes. Cutting government spending during a downturn is the worst mistake policymakers are pursuing. Contrary to achieving the desired result of shrinking a government deficit, reducing government spending and total spending will shrink the economy even more and delay even farther into the future the likelihood of enough economic growth to pay down the deficit. Witness the disaster of austerity policies in Europe.
Seeking to destroy necessary economic regulations to control egregious practices in financial markets is another mistake. Letting everyone do exactly what they want to do is an open invitation for spectacular geniuses to invent spectacular fraud and mismanagement.
Much of the information Congressional leaders and public policy makers need to know about economics to minimize the mistakes they are hell-bent on making can be learned in the first few weeks of a basic economics course with a standard economics text used universally throughout the country. What a pity that those deciding our current economic policies are totally ignorant of these basic principles. Either that, or political gain is deemed more important to ensure selfish survival than is strengthening the economy so we can pay off our debts. Sadly, according to the oft-quoted saying, "good economics is rarely good politics." Sad, indeed. Eighteen-year old college freshmen know more economics than some Congressional leaders and other policy makers apparently know.