Daniel Altman is Big Think's Chief Economist and an adjunct faculty member at New York University's Stern School of Business. Daniel wrote economic commentary for The Economist, The New York Times, and The International Herald Tribune before founding North Yard Economics, a non-profit consulting firm serving developing countries, in 2008. In between, he served as an economic advisor in the British government and wrote four books, most recently Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.
Daniel Altman: In the past several months there have been a lot of economic debates all around the world. In the United States, the European Union, Japan, just about everywhere. The United States is struggling with its fiscal issues. So is the European Union, there's still questions about the financial markets and how they work. Then in Japan you've got an all-new possible economic regime. They’re gonna be boosting a lot of money into the money supply and trying to finally jump start growth in Japan.
But in the punditocracy, in the blogosphere there are a lot of differing views about how we really ought to approach economic policy. Both taxes and spending on the fiscal side and also monetary policy with our central banks and even issues like trade and regulation, there's a lot of debate. And the problem is that it's getting harder and harder to cut through what's just talk and what's actually supported by empirical evidence.
One of the reasons for this is that there is a multiplicity of outlets now through which you can get supposed economic research and access to new economic ideas. You can read working papers on the websites of the researchers before they publish them in journals. You can see research done by think tanks. You can see research done by government agencies. You can see research done by people in their back yards and posted on their blogs.
The problem is that not a lot of this research is actually reviewed by anybody. Not very many people check through it to see whether it's genuinely rigorous. Now in the old days it used to be that if you wanted to read something about an economic research you went into a journal, which had been reviewed by professors or other economics academics and researchers who would tell basically whether or not they believed the research.
Now this is no longer the case. And so there's a lot of smoke being blown into the atmosphere. And it makes it easier for people to continue pushing old ideas that really ought to have been put to bed by now. Such as the idea for example that if you lower tax rates, you could raise tax revenue. Well we just know that's not true. We've tried it a few times; it’s never been the case. There are very few economists who actually believe that now but the idea keeps on because people are still willing to write about it.
There is one remedy though. At the University of Chicago Business School, the initiative on global markets has started a forum. Where they actually poll some of the best economists from around the country, people of all different political and ideological and theoretical stripes and they asked them questions about things like whether the fiscal stimulus worked? What should we do about taxes? What should we do about trade policy? And the great thing about it is a lot of times they agree.
So if you want to find out what the real final word is from the best thinking in economics, you finally have a place to go. You can check to see whether all that smoke you've been hearing is true or not.
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd