I often see problems in the world and wonder why someone doesn't fix them. Then I realize that I am someone, and that makes me feel bad because it is all my fault. Obviously I can't fix every problem, but I decided to try and fix one in particular.

The majority of voters say the ailing economy is the most important problem for the next U.S. president to solve. How does a voter who knows little or nothing about economics decide which candidate has the best economic plan?

As you know, the media is worthless in solving this problem because they like to give equal time to both sides, no matter how ridiculous one of the sides might be. Or worse, some media outlets make no attempt to be unbiased. Realistically, the media has no idea which economic plans are likely to work best, so even if they wanted to be objective and informative they don't have the tools or the incentive to acquire them.

The economy is arguably the most important issue in the world, having a huge impact on everything from global warming, to health care, to defense. And voters have no reliable information upon which to make decisions. Someone needs to fix that. Realizing that I am someone, I decided to take a crack at it.

At substantial personal expense I hired a professional survey company to poll professional economists and find out which presidential candidate's plans have the most support. Obviously there is a limit to how unbiased the survey can be, since economists are human, and most of them presumably belong to a major political party. We'll try to take that into account with the survey design. But no matter what the result, I think it will be useful.

For example, the idea of a gas tax holiday was condemned by economists in both major parties. I expect there are other plans that have virtually no support from economists in either camp. That would be useful to know.

But suppose economists are evenly divided on a particular tax plan. Is that useful to voters? I think it is, because the only rational thing for you to do as a voter in that situation is to support the plan that taxes yourself the least. And you can do that with a clear conscience if there is no agreement among experts that taxing yourself more will help the world in the long run.

I think we would all agree that having better information won't influence most voters. If every economist in the survey somehow miraculously supported the same candidate's positions, it wouldn't change the votes of hardcore Democrats or Republicans. But in a close election such as this one, independent voters, who I call the Rational Few, end up making the decision. I am hopeful that for that influential group, better information will lead to better decisions. If the Rational Few are indeed influenced by a poll of economists, and it tips the election, economists will forever be polled before national elections. Problem solved.

And in this way I plan to fix the economy, end the energy crisis, rationally address global warming, and provide low cost health care to all. In return, I expect the public to call me an idiot. I'm pretty sure that's why "somone" doesn't fix problems more often. But I can take it.

The survey will take several weeks to pull together. I'll give you the results when they are in.

On a separate note, I probably won't post an entry until later this week. I'll tell you what I'm up to later. It's not a vacation, but it is a good thing.

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+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008

I am someone I refer to as "nobody"; so I'm glad that you ("somebody") can help me figure this out. I, too, am at the lower end of the economics bell curve when it comes to knowing WTF is going on. What's "real" to me are these things:

1. The value of my house is going down thanks to the ever-increasing Michigan unemployment rate
2. As a result of #1, my mortgage payments don't mean !$%*! but I still have to pay
3. The cost of filling up my car have more than doubled in the last year
4. The cost to heat/cool my house have gone up 50%
5. The city has raised property taxes for the third time in 2 years
6. There's no end in sight

I feel like a "nobody" because I'm left with very little time to do anything other than keep my head above water. While "move to a different state" seems like a good idea, that only knocks out #1 and #2 on the list; and I'm not really confident that the housing market in the whole US is all that great compared to Michigan anyway.

I'm certainly glad that you've taking a more informed approach and helping your readers make heads/tails of the economic state of affairs.

I look forward to the results of your survey.
Jul 14, 2008
Hi Scott,

I'm excited to see the results of this poll and yes, it will influence how I vote. After reading dsg's post, I'd be interested in hearing more about the poll itself...what was the response rate, who was polled, etc. Thanks for doing this. Seriously.
Jul 14, 2008
Great idea Scott! Can't wait to see it.

I think that in general economists will like McCain's policies better. I was going to vote for Obama until I read the piece in Fortune about how they were both going to fix the economy. My favorite part was when McCain said his role model was Milton Friedman. That made me change my vote.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
>>beam us back tons of energy from the sun 24/7...

wow... it would almost be as good as if the sun shone directly onto the earth!
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
And next you should poll software developers to find out if PCs or Macs are better. Make sure that you include a roughly equal number of PCs and Mac users otherwise the poll would be biased.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
Hi Scott, Did you get your puppy? how about some pics , we would love to see them
Jul 14, 2008
Thank for pursuing this great idea... I look forward to the results.

I do have one thought on the survey design. The "economy" encompasses many, many subjects (taxation, trade, subsidies, currency, growth, inflation, interest rates, debt, unemployment, retirement, health care, etc.). Please ask the economists to prioritize or weight the most important subjects. For example, I am against the gas tax holiday -- but that notion has less importance than the subject of trade.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
The only problem I see is that Scott assumes that if the economists split, the only rational (in the sense economists use the word) thing to do is go with the plan that taxes you less. It is rational to pay more tax if it results in new or improved government services, such as government funded health care, expanded public transit, or improved highways, i.e., all things that carry a direct benefit to you.
Jul 14, 2008
larryh77: Your statement that we "already have the technology" to create "solar satellites" that would "beam us back tons of energy 24/7" is optimistic at best. Actually, it doesn't make much sense. I assume you're talking about transferring electricity from orbit to the Earth's surface, a very complicated proposition given that it's infeasable to run any sort of conductor between the satellite and the ground. Please explain how you would accomplish this miracle.

You have also suggested the legalization and taxation of drugs and prostitution, in order to "take the money out of the hands of drug lords and pimps and instead go right into the economy." This is completely idiotic. You are beginning with the assumption that a drug lord's earnings are separate from the economy, as though drug lords are a financial cu-de-sac. Do you think that drug lords never purchase food, pay rent or drive cars? If your only concern is the economy, you consider that taxing prostitution will send a certain percentage of the revenues to the government, thus taking them OUT of the economy!

In conclusion, you should think more about what you write, to avoid looking like an imbecile.
Jul 14, 2008
Wow, seriously? Sweet! Thanks man, I owe you a six-pack.
Jul 14, 2008
The flaw is that most economists aren't interested in voting at all. Especially behavioral economists, they believe that people are terrible at predicting what they really want.
Jul 14, 2008
I already have a plan to cure our county's economic and energy woes. First, legalize and tax drugs and prostitution. That will take the money out of the hands of drug lords and pimps and instead go right into the economy. That would be huge! It will also allow us to control these issues.

Secondly, start working now on a plan to do away with our need for so much oil by going solar. Didn't your blog mention the technology of solar satellites recently? We can put solar satellites in various positions around the earth to beam us back tons of energy from the sun 24/7. We also have the technology now to build cars that run on solar power and if we put our effort into it, solar energy could substitute for most of our oil and electrical needs. The only thing is that getting started is very expensive. But I have the answer for that too...

The money will come from the billions of dollars a year we spend on NASA. Forget about going to Mars, the moon, and the vast array of exploratory rockets we launch into space. Put all that money instead into manufacturing and deploying solar satellites. Eventually we would reap so much energy that we could export the excess and make billions!
Jul 14, 2008
I don't think it's fair to say that it's irrational to be affiliated with a party. I'd agree that economics is probably the most important factor, but if you're already acknowledging that its so complicated we can't make good choices you're acknowledging that people need to look at other things.

I'm sure the vast majority of these people were quite illogical in making their decision, but you could - COULD - logically consider what issues are important to you as an individual and end up with a firm choice of party.

The research sounds interesting, but as has been said it'll be hard to use an acceptable methodology. You also need to look at how wealthy professional economists are - their interests won't be repressentitive of the country's.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
Good idea, but sounds expensive. Do you want contributions, I'd like to be able to tell my grandchildren that I had a hand in saving the world from global warming. That'll get me much more kudos than stories about my IT career.
Jul 14, 2008
There was a study I read once (I'm having trouble googling it now, unfortunately) that showed a strong negative correlation between economic prosperity and political corruption, on a country-by-country basis.

If political corruption is so effective at causing economic pain -- and this seems like a reasonable chain of causality to conclude, as corrupt governments can deliver big unfair advantages to companies at relatively cheap cost -- then maybe the best thing to do for the economy is to vote for the least corrupt politicians. That may be hard to judge, so as a rule of thumb, your strategy could be to vote a straight anti-incumbent ticket by default, and deviate from that only when you're pretty sure the challenger would be more corrupt.
Jul 14, 2008
I wanted to second dsg's comments. I'm also curious how you define 'professional economist' - for example, most academic economists only consider people with PhD's in economics to be 'true economists'. I'm not saying that's right but, for example, dsg up there would not be considered a real economist, though he might consider himself one (no offense intended!), and I'm pretty sure the media don't make that sort of distinction. Still, I'd recommend contacting the American Economic Association and using their membership - I have no idea if they'd agree to this sort of thing but if not, you should at least make sure that in the survey, you ask what professional organizations the person belongs to (not all economists are members of AEA but if not, they should certainly be members of related organizations like the Society of Labor Economists or one of the regional Economic Associations). I'm sure you're already planning to do this but I'd also highly recommend asking what the respondent's highest econ degree is and what sector they work in (i.e., academia, government, private industry) - my guess is you're likely to see more agreement among those groups but differences may show up across them.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2008
Thank you!
Jul 14, 2008
Is it "Moving-Into-Your-New-House" week? Or staying-up all-night-with-the-new-puppy week?

You rock, Scott.

Anxiously awaiting your words of wisdom re: elections.
Jul 14, 2008
Damn mister, what world were really born on before being discovered as a foundling on the planet Earth? Surviving lightning strikes and cage-free Osmonds in Branson, MO; taking on a new puppy; giving voters useful economic data; and working on something else? And still giving us a new Dilbert comic every day. Thank you. We are in your debt. :)
Jul 14, 2008
I am genuinely impressed. Kudos to you for putting your money down on a piece of research like this. I can only imagine that a survey of this type would be horribly expensive, and without a specific political or economic purpose it would not otherwise be done.
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