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Latest News: Economists Agree

February 4, 2013, 11:41 AM
Encon

Imagine if you could ask the Most Valuable Players of all 47 Super Bowls what they’d learned about winning football games. Wouldn’t that be a great resource for any coach, player, commentator, or fan? As it happens, just such a resource is now available in economics, yet almost no one is using it.

To a casual observer, economics may seem speculative, politicized, and above all unclear on pressing issues like taxes, spending, jobs, and trade. Every day, cable news networks stage heated arguments between supposed experts with opposite points of view. But they present a false picture; the majority of academic economists actually agree on plenty of topics of huge importance to the public and private sectors.

We know this because someone decided to ask them their opinions. Since 2011, the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business has polled economists for their views on topics ranging from whether the debt ceiling should be abolished to the effects of Japan’s monetary policy.

The survey group includes economists of many different theoretical and political leanings. But they’re all based in the United States, and they’re all extremely well known and respected in the field. In fact, the roster of survey respondents is so littered with stars that it could come straight from an economics graduate student’s treasured trading card collection. (Think that’s a joke? Look here.)

Despite their differences, these economists overwhelmingly agree on a remarkable number of big questions. For instance, should the debt ceiling be abolished? Absolutely yes. Did bailing out the big automakers lower the unemployment rate? Yes again. Would turning Medicare into a private insurance market impose new risks on seniors? You bet.

These are pretty categorical answers to the kinds of questions that are hotly – and wrongly – debated every day in articles and newscasts. Indeed, the media have failed almost completely to take notice of the IGM Forum. By my count (using the LexisNexis news archive), it has been mentioned just three times by major news outlets: The Washington PostNational Journal, and U.S. News.

This is a travesty. You’d think journalists would fall over themselves to use a free, publicly available resource that provided on-demand answers and quick facts (with attribution!) for their articles. Yet that would preclude the kind of he-said, she-said debates and false equivalences that have become a staple of media coverage of the economy. They may make better television, but they surely make worse policy.

 

Latest News: Economists Agree

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