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I won’t make a habit of this, but a comment on this blog about the Dilbert Survey of Economists was so well written that I am promoting it. I don’t entirely agree with the writer’s point, but I am impressed with its clarity. Clear thinking makes me happy.

From user Olivaw:

As an economist, I find a number of the reactions to this survey very curious.

First, in general what economists agree on most of all is a framework for evaluating government policy. Notions such as efficiency, equity, market failure, market equilibrium, and benefit-cost analysis are regarded as useful ways of thinking about the economy and possible policy interventions.

Second, most economists I know are not highly partisan. This is in part because most economists like most people have other interests than partisan politics. But it is also because studying economics tends to lead towards having somewhat complicated views on issues that often cross party orthodoxy. So, most Democratic economists tend to be moderate Democrats, and most Republican economists are moderate Republicans.

Third, the notion that somehow being an economist would lead you inevitably to support a certain candidate is strange. Economists in many cases might largely agree on the framework for evaluating a policy. They might even agree on the policy's effects. But how to value the disparate effects relies in many cases on subjective values, about which economics as a profession has little useful to say (try philosophy).

So, for example, for many policies economists might agree that the policy should be evaluated in terms of its effects on efficiency (the size of the economic pie) and equity (how equally the pie is distributed). In some cases, economists might even agree on the approximate size of these efficiency and equity effects. However, if the policy increases efficiency but decreases equity, or decreases efficiency but increases equity, there is NOTHING in economics that tells you what relative value you should place on efficiency vs. equity, and therefore what you should choose.

In general, I suspect the economists who favor Obama tend to have a greater relative weight on equity vs. efficiency compared to economists who favor McCain. Both groups might agree that both efficiency and equity are important, but they disagree PHILOSOPHICALLY (outside of their training as economists) on the relative importance of these two social values.
 
 
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Apr 14, 2009
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Apr 14, 2009
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Sep 22, 2008
Hello,

First comment, about the survey. I think that Scott expected most economy experts to be pro McCain, and the fact that it is the other way around has thrown him off-balance. Now we discuss about CEOs and the likes.

Second: CEOs know about running business, not about economy. They are different things, just related. Regardless of the ethics or stupidity of real-life CEOs, I think most are very good at running companies.

Third: after reading the following blog entry, I wonder that ANY economist is for McCain...
http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/9/21/9322/74248/245/602838

Regards,
christian
 
 
Sep 19, 2008
I don't want to hear anything like this from you until the dilbert strip is funny again. These last few days have been atrocious. It might be that lame female character, but the head explode one makes me think otherwise. Honestly, "cleanup in aisle three?" That's the punchline? argh.
 
 
Sep 19, 2008
As a Dibert and Scott fan I am glad to see so much valuable comments, other blogs I read every day are the one from Dani Rodrik and Chris Blattman, I wonder if they would comment on your great job Scott.

I agree to the idea that even scholars are human being, in short and in a dichotomist way I think that:

- well educated people think rationally when they have data to analyze, but emotionally when they can only guess.

- Less educated people thin emotionally what ever.

Of course we can temperate it because forecasts are made on previous data, but Lehman Brothers jobless guys and girls should agree that forecasts are not fully scientific stuffs.

To get back to the basic and thinking to Pascal’s pensees we can imagine that economists are in majority mathematical minds, therefore less acute when it comes to estimations, they would probably more rely on past data, and past data just bring light to the path behind.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
Does anyone else get this guy's user name?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._Daneel_Olivaw
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
I found the survey and the following discussion really interesting (especially because I am an economist).

In particular, the conclusion by Dilbert that:

''[…] you should expect [economists] to cross party lines when the data is clear and understood, and to lean toward party loyalties when things get fuzzy. That's how humans are wired. We like our team.''

is really a good news to me…

Actually these Dilbert's survey result is really similar to the one I and a co-author got conducting a survey on Italian economists' opinions. Interesting, isn't it?


If you are interested in our survey's results have a look at

http://micdimaio.googlepages.com/surveyofitalianeconomists

Ciao,
michele
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
Just sending the rest of the comments to my email.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
Just posting so the comments can be sent to my email box.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
Reporter to Economist

Is the market going to go up or down?

Economist

Yes.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 18, 2008
"there is NOTHING in economics that tells you what relative value you should place on efficiency vs. equity, and therefore what you should choose."

What about the Kaldor-Hicks criteria. whereby if the winners could theoretically compensate the losers there is an increase in efficiency? I'd say that specifically says to choose efficiency over equity.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 18, 2008
Scott, Thanks for the survey and a thank you to all the people who comment on this blog too. It really got me thinking. I haven't been able to digest the results of the survey and don't really agree with a lot of what has been said.

But all of this made me think a lot more and dig for a lot more info, in the process I changed sides. I am not an American citizen though, just working in the States, but just thought I should let you know in any case.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
As to Mr./Ms. Olivaw's comments:

Economists are people. Most are academics, and therefore tend to be theoretical, while being insulated from the real world by their immersion in academia. I challenge your assumption that economists tend to be moderates, and thus unaffected by their political leanings. Could you point me to some studies that support your thesis? If this central assumption of your statement is not provable, then the basis of your entire thesis becomes suspect.

Opinion used in place of fact, but presented as though they are facts, is a technique often used by Scott in his posts. This is one reason why they are easily challenged, as is your response. Your statement that your “moderate” assumption is based on "most economists you know" calls to mind the famous quote by Pauline Kael following Richard Nixon's defeat of George McGovern: "How can that be? No one I know voted for Nixon." I respectfully submit the same could easily be true of your friends in the economic community – you are a moderate, you tend to flock with like kinds of economists, Q.E.D.

Because economists are people, their emotional biases will come into play when asked a question that directly relates, or could have some impact on, the outcome of the presidential election. To assume, then, that they (the polled economists) are basing their opinions on some esoteric equity versus efficiency consideration, rather than on their knowledge that what they say could influence the election in favor of their candidate, challenges credibility to a high degree.

For Scott:

I (and others) asserted that including CEOs in your survey might have given it more validity. Your response, which was to relate CEOs to criminals, was interesting but not surprising. You stated that CEOs have responsibility to their shareholders, which is true, but then tried to imply that because of that their input would have been invalid. I'm not sure how you reached that conclusion, but it seems to be somewhat specious and an attempt to justify what appears to be an obvious flaw in your survey. You also failed to point out that those shareholders include the vast majority of Americans - anyone who owns stocks, mutual funds, 401(k)s or plans to have any payment from a pension fund, are stockholders and are affected by the success or failure of those companies, and their CEOs.

Businesses ARE the economy, Scott, in case you missed that point somewhere in your economic education. CEOs do have a responsibility to maximize shareholder value - but they are also the ones who provide the jobs and fill the needs of the consumer. Capitalism is not the enemy, Scott. The move toward socialism is. Government can provide jobs (there are more people working for the government than for all the manufacturers in the US, by the way), but government can't create the capital with which to pay them. That money has to come from the economy, which means taking money from businesses and citizens in order to pay for the ever-expanding governmental bureaucracy. That bureaucracy produces nothing and adds nothing; it only eats money like a starving swarm of locusts eats crops.

Government doesn't add to the economy, it only takes from it. The only way it covers up this fact is by borrowing huge amounts of money and then pretending it hasn't really done that. If government really paid for its spending by taking taxes from businesses and citizens, the economy would collapse. The looming specter of unfunded entitlements threatens to swamp our economy someday – which candidate do you think would be better at handling THAT mess?

Your money would have been better spent to focus on the economic issues rather than on the candidates. Ask those economists how we're going to pay for the unfunded entitlements, for example. Or how to reduce the national debt without cutting spending. That would bring up some interesting theoretical ideas. Then, go to some CEOs and put the same questions to them, and tell them what the theorists have posited. You would start an interesting dialog that might actually point us in a reasonable direction; one that was not overweighed by either theory or self-interest.

As long as you insist on focusing your efforts on those who think about the economy rather than including those who have to live and succeed in it every day, your survey will be of no more than academic interest. It is unreasonable and facile to expect that kind of one-dimensional academic exercise to really help people decide for whom to vote.

Again, please feel free to commission all the meaningless surveys you wish, and thank you again so very much for not voting.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
This is VERY frustrating. I DEFINITELY value efficiency more than equity, but that leads me to VERY STRONGLY support Obama. There was a time when Democrats governed inequitably and inefficiently in the name of equity over efficiency, and now is a time when Republicans govern inefficiently and inequitably in the name of efficiency over efficiency but it is disgraceful for economists to be fooled. When you actually look at policies and voting records reality is crystal clear.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 18, 2008
Scott, i think i'm a very good dilbert writer and as funny as you, perhaps even funnier.
You need people like to help you continue the unforgettable line of Dilbert to the world.
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 18, 2008
Have a look at my new Group mashup that i did, its well good
My User name is adamw.
have fun reading it
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 18, 2008
Scott, I have to admit that is the most intelligent comment I have read in a while. Unfortunately, it also debunks a lot of the "findings" as they were reported. So, basically, we found out that the set of economists that you polled have similar values.

However, the piece of information that weighs heavily on my mind is the level of crossover support on the key issues. The flagship percentages of support for either candidate can be summarily dismissed based on the heavy partisan bias in the sample. Because of the partisan bias, the cross over becomes the areas where logic is being exercised. Really interesting would be the cross over among those who were familiar with both economic plans. That would be the true gem in this exercise.

Anyway, thanks for paying for good information. It was enlightening. However, as is usually the case, the real good information is buried below the headline. Unfortunately, american voters are no deeper than a headline, which is why we have been bombarded by Sarah Palin's personal life and questions of whether or not Obama is a muslim. Ugh.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
Nice post... it's fairly obvious, but helps put things in perspective to be reminded of this.

smoofra, I have to disagree with your analysis. You are making the common mistake that money grows on trees. But actually, the money comes from all of us, so why should one person get more than me? That money is simply coming out of one pile and into another.

For example, if the gov'ment wants to give a crony a bunch of money, and then wants to bribe me with some lesser amount to keep me happy, should I be happy? I don't think so.
 
 
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Sep 18, 2008
Seems oddly inconsistent that Uncle Scott would spend money on this project anyway.

I guess getting a degree in economics magically removes the hindrances inherent in being a "moist robot".

Scott's new position: As long as you got the proper creds, you suddenly have that mystical power called free will, and cognitive dissonance no longer has any power over the way you think.

I wouldn't have pegged him as being the type to fawn over a group of people on such a shaky basis.
 
 
Sep 18, 2008
So in the end it's not about money, but how you much you value that what the money is used for.

No !$%* economists.
You know what doing stuff costs, but you don't know what is worth doing.

Maybe next time you could survey fewer economists and more people who have a chance of knowing what should be done.
 
 
 
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