Some of you poo-pooed my idea of surveying economists, pointing out that they have a bad track record of predicting the big things that matter, such as the credit crunch, or oil at $145 a barrel. Does that mean a poll of economists would be useless even if they all agreed?


As economists like to say, "It depends."


First, let's agree that even if experts such as doctors and lawyers and engineers are often wrong, that doesn't mean they should be ignored. What matters is that consulting with experts produces a better result on average than whatever is the alternative. Depending on the sort of question being asked, economists are likely to be more reliable than the public at large.


If the question involves predicting the value of the stock market next year, economists aren't any better than a monkey with a dart board. And they know it. But if the question is whether using food crops for ethanol could hurt the economy more than it helps, or whether free trade is a good idea, or whether a gas tax holiday makes sense, you would be wise to listen.


Economists are also historians when it comes to their field. They would know, for example, that government price controls would be a disaster because they have failed in the past. If doing X with the economy caused Y to happen the last three times someone tried it, wouldn't you like to know it? Economists already do.


When you are talking about the global economy, making the right decisions just barely more often than before is a huge deal. So the bar is set low for economists. They only need to be right more often than the public and the politicians. Is that so hard?

I'll blog again in a few days.



Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +7
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Jul 25, 2008
Economists are useful at providing advice on ficsal policy.

They are next to useless at predicting the future in a macro-economic environment.
Jul 22, 2008
Having worked in the field I can tell you the one thing that Economists DO NOT DO is look for any empirical validation to support their theories.

Example: SOME Economists say "Introducing a minimum wage always leads to higher unemployment."
A national minimum wage was introduced in the UK in 1999. Unemployment fell for several years after. SOME Economists still say "Introducing a minimum wage always leads to higher unemployment."

Now of course you can argue a minimum wage will cause unemployment to be higher than it otherwise would've been. (I don't accept this btw - i think the effect is marginal and other factors are the main determinants of the unemployment level). But that's not the claim that SOME economists make. They make the claim as stated.

In science hypotheses are validated. This is not the case in Economics. If you were to ask astrologers they would not doubt talk with the same certainty as economists about the causal relationships in history, and they'd be about as trustworthy.
Jul 21, 2008
I really like this idea, but honestly i don't think it's ambtious enough. Here are some other things that I would like to see this survey accomplish:

1. It's great to get a consensus professional economist opinion on the candidates' specific policies, however, I think these opinions would need to be qualified with extra information. Some examples include long term vs. short term implications (a policy could be really good in the short term and have very disasterous long term consequences), the winners and losers associated with the policy (obviously there are trade-offs with each policy decision, I'd like to know what those trade-offs are), etc.

2. It's also important to guage the overall importance of the policy decisions at hand. One candidate may have 3 really bad policy ideas, but they may be relatively small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. I'd like to know what the economists think is important. I may think that having a balanced budget is important, but if 0% of economists think that, then it might be nice to know.

3. I'd like to see this experiment extended beyond economists to also include experts on foreign policy, the environment, energy, education etc. If we're going to get the experts' opinion on which candidate has the best policies, shouldn't we examine the policies from more than just an economic perspective. Energy and cliamate policy is obviously one of the bigger short and long term challenges for the next president. I'd like to know who the experts like on those topics and why. I agree that many of these topics are fairly subjective as opposed to economics and the historical data might not be as predictive, but if there is consensus in any of these profesional communities then I think it is valuable to know about.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 17, 2008
You're killing me here Scott. My boss has a PhD in economics and he reads Dilbert daily your blog a couple times a week. Worse he knows I like to surf your site which means that everytime he sees you raving about the genius of economists I have to watch his head swell slightly more.

I guess there are worse things, but his head is getting prtetty big.
Jul 17, 2008
Getting a handle on the economy is great, but can economists also steer you to the right candidate when it comes to other issues such as the war, immigration, civil rights, health care, etc... I think you're missing the bigger, more holistic picture.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 17, 2008
I like where you're going with this. :^)
Jul 17, 2008
Hermantsclone wrote:

"A country which can afford the luxury of being shepherded by texan cow-boys for 10 years is not poor."

...it may not be an indicator that we are poor, rather it is the reason why we (some of us anyhow) are now poor.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 17, 2008
Hi Scott,

While you are spending some money on the survey, which I think is a great idea, you should also buy a monkey and a dart board. Paste the survey to the dart board, let ChimChim do his thing and we will see who is smarter. Also you could teach the monkey to walk the new puppy. I doubt any economist could be that useful.

Jul 17, 2008
On a different note, "Are you funnier than Scott Adams?" runs the tag to the mashups link. Well I've now got back a statistically significant sample and can conclude with reasonable certainty that no, I'm not funnier than Scott Adams. Can you please amend the line to read "You're not funnier than Scott Adams?" Many thanks.
Jul 16, 2008
We the blessed & lucky people of the world outside the US look at your situation in this way:

The US is:

1. A country where the housing pricess fall is not poor!

2. A country which is a net exporter of energy is not poor!

3. A country which has the balls to treat its suppliers as if they were customers is not poor. (e.g. China, India)

4. A country which can write off a trillion dollars in the local market by selling financial assets in India is not poor.

5. A country which can afford the luxury of being shepherded by texan cow-boys for 10 years is not poor.

The 'Can-Do' US always succeeds in its endeavours on account of its sheer grit and genius. And then lets the success be hijacked by parasites like Religion and fruitcake philosophers.

Hence the recession.
Jul 16, 2008
I love Dilbert. I think Scott is comedic genius.

But why why why do I want to whack him on the head with a baseball bat everytime he talks about economics?
Jul 16, 2008
Here's a survey that I would find more interesting..

Collect a volunteer think tank team with members who have advanced degrees in:
-Political science,
-Engineering (power infrastructure).
At least these but more the better and as many polymaths as possible. No crackpots and no US citizens. Then make that team evaluate plans of the candidates.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2008
I am really looking forward to the results of this survey because, when it comes right down to it, economists are the only ones whose opinions matter.

Who really gives a crap if 75 thousand hard working Americans lost their homes to forclosure last month? What is important is that our big corporations make a lot of money so they can keep our economy vibrant.

Do I care how many American soldiers get killed or maimed in Iraq? Not one bit...as long as it doesn't impact my wallet.

The macro view of our economy really is the only important issue in this election. If you don't believe me, just ask any economist.
Jul 16, 2008
Harry Truman said " Get me a one handed economist". He was tired of always hearing "On the hand this & on the other that"

Unfortunately, there is seldom a simple clearcut solution to any issue. That's why they have the term "unintended consequences". Recycling costs & procedures is one example of a seemingly simple answer with very complex results. Also, I think the rush towards & rapid retreat away from biofuels is another example.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2008
Scott is paying for the survey so he gets to decide what group or groups are polled. If he wants 17year old crack addicts, that’s his choice. When the results are published what I would like to know is how the “experts” were chosen and the questions (exact wording) used. You can get any result you want in a survey by the wording of the questions.
Jul 16, 2008
Scott - please have someone monitor the MASHUP area. A couple of kiddies have gotten on there and left a large number of (what passes for witty to pre-pubescent boys) efforts (very obscene and disgusting).

Meanwhile, I suggest that any interested/responsible subscribers go to the MASHUP section and FLAG any contribution by "satan" or "ihateppl". (If you read a couple of their "jokes", you'll appreciate that I've suggested a way to avoid reading the rest.)

Maybe there should be a 24-hour delay before posting? And maybe some kind of filter to automatically flag obvious words?

Scott's long suffering fans deserve better than to be subjected to this purile garbage.
Jul 16, 2008
its all b.s.
everything is controlled by oil lobby who hve jacked up the oil prices hurting the economy so nobody cares abt the environment in the elections
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2008
'They only need to be right more often than the public and the politicians. Is that so hard?'

It can be, depending on who decides what's 'right' or 'wrong'.

A lot depends on your perspective. Economists tend to look at the big picture...MacroEconomics. In that view, it may be right to transfer work from high cost places like the US to lower cost places like India or China. But the public is made up of indivduals who are losing their jobs to overseas workers who do the same job for less than the minimum wage here. It's tough for them to see that as the right thing to do.
Jul 16, 2008
@agentlion - you hit a sore spot with me since I have a kid with autism. I think the moms in this case are just trying to fill the void. Autism rates are increasing - why? What is the correlation? Without someone providing medical explanations, people are going to go find answers themselves. And the medical professionals out there are not telling us what is happening...they're just trying to tell us what is NOT happening.

I don't want to sound all conspiracy theory, but there is some background for mistrusting doctors. Even more for mistrusting pharmaceutical companies. And a ton of reasons for mistrusting the government. Here are just a few cases to note:

Tuskegee syphilis experiment
Harold Blauer
high oxygen concentrations to premature infants
injections of live human cancer cells into 22 chronically ill, debilitated non-cancer patients
hepatitis in retarded children
Cincinnati radiation experiments

and those are just the INTENTIONAL !$%* ups.
Jul 16, 2008
Scott, can you PLEASE fix the layout of your blog page to reduce the space between paragraph. It is now horrible large, bordering on the unreadable. Here is how paragraphs should be formatted:

"The traditional technique, which has served well for centuries, is to indent the first line
of a paragraph. The indentation need not be large, about an em will be enough, but more
will be required if the typeblock is wide.

The other method is used mainly in business letters and is a recent invention. The
first lines of paragraphs are not indented and typically one blank line is left between para-
graphs. "

One blank line. Please. Not 5 or 6.

Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog