As regular readers know, I funded a survey of over 500 economists to see which candidate for President of the United States has the most support from economic experts. I will publish the results in a press release and in this blog late next week unless something slows me down, such as getting assassinated.

Voters say the economy is the most important issue to them. Foreign affairs will keep dropping down the list of importance now that the current administration supports a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. So how does a voter decide which candidate would be best for the economy?

Yesterday Reuters/Zogby announced a poll that showed, among other things, which candidate the voters think would manage the economy better. This is like asking people who have hemorrhoids the best way to treat a brain tumor. Shouldn't we be asking brain surgeons?

Forgive me for not caring what your grandma thinks of NAFTA. I want to know which economic policies seem best according to the majority of economists. I got tired of waiting for someone else to give me some useful information and decided to go get it myself. Democracy without useful information is random. This isn't a good time in history to be making random decisions.

I woke up this morning with the strange feeling that I might own the most important information in the world. Although 90% of voters have made up their mind, the race is so tight that the remaining 10% will settle things. If the media reports the results of my survey of economists, will it influence independent voters and thus the arrow of history? Probably not. But you can't rule it out.

When I announce the results I will include all the disclaimers about its accuracy and usefulness, and there will be plenty. But if you ignore the opinions of 500 economists you are either a well-informed genius who needs no advice, or an idiot who doesn't realize it would be helpful. (Those two conditions feel exactly the same.) For those in the middle, I would think you'd care what the experts think.
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Aug 21, 2008
But well the economists opinions be enough to sway any votes? Even if one candidate has the better econ policites, that ensure they are better overall. They might, for example, want to start a war, be really ugly, or deport all Elbonian living in the U.S. to Canada.
Aug 21, 2008
"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missles and nuclear warheads.... It includes... the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. "And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials... the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

A speech from RFK shortly before he died
Aug 21, 2008
It is funny to think that the economists are the right one to "rule" the world. Why not psychologists? Or taxi drivers? Or layers? (Anyway, all I want from government is to let me live as I want and regard the best...)
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Aug 21, 2008
It depends on what you're trying to maximize. Rather than a poll of some sample of economists, I'd have liked you to ask each economist to write 2 sentences under 50 words total about which candidate they think would do a better job and why. You could get your "poll results" out of that. And we could all see that different goals lead to different conclusions. This is economics, not physics.
Aug 21, 2008
If 249 say up and 251 say down, does that mean we should trust the 251? I agree with the commenter who said that people will tend to agree with whichever arguments support their own preconceptions or superstitions. That's what keeps horse tracks in business.

I'd just be happy to have a President - and a congress - that keep their hands off the economy (and our hard earned money) as much as possible.

If PRO is the opposite of CON, is CONgress the opposite of PROgress?

[if there is no consensus of economists, you should ignore economics in your decision. That might mean voting for the one who will most likely lower your taxes at the expense of others, or who will nominate judges you like. -- Scott]
Aug 21, 2008
What qualifies as an economist? I assume they must have a PhD in economics from an accredited university? How are you finding these people?
Aug 21, 2008
Dear Scott,

Thank you for your comic strips, your books, and now for your diligence in the search of economists' EDUCATED, EXPERIENCED opinions on the candidates for president. I appreciate all you do, and I hope you have a great day. May your voice echo from the corners of Danville!
Aug 21, 2008
Is this a variation on the room full of monkies and a typewriter?
Aug 21, 2008
WAIT - Don't announce the results next week!

The next two weeks the media is going to be consumed by the conventions and VP picks. The results of your poll won't get the attention they deserve. You should wait until mid-September to release the numbers.

Aug 21, 2008
You're hearts in the right place, Scott. I'm just a professional skeptic (read: engineer).

I've seen the results of many "Professional Meteorologists" miss big storms just 24-hours away. You are asking a similar body to project 2-5 years out, and with even less complete data, and fewer proven models.

Like I've said before, this is good exercise IF IT GETS REPEATED. 500 folks are now on record as to what will happen if-and-when. Two years from now, after if-and-when, we will be able to eliminate, say 150 of them as being inaccurate predictors. Do this again in two years (for the midterm), and two years aftter that (for the re-election). Only then will we start to figure out which of the competing economic models best PREDICT how the economy will respond under what policies.

From what I can tell (and I'm only an engineer, not an economist), the current state of economic theory is only good at "predicting the past". That is, providing a rationalization for explaining why a suprise happened. "The DOW rallied yesterday on falling oil prices.....")

I do look forward to the announcement, and I am proud of you for puttng your wallet where you heart is - most people do it the other way around. I hope the data includes Party Affiliation, Self-described leanings (Liberal/Centrist/Conservative)., and even rationalization as to how they reached their individual conclusions. Although I migh not be able to follow the math, I can follow the logic that leads to and comes from the math. And some of the math isn't that tough (Supply/Demand curves; Laffer curve)

Aug 21, 2008
A long time ago I came to the conclusion that politics does not need to make sense. This brings great peace of mind that allows me to enjoy the amusement value.

The opinions of people with a common chronic condition, like hemorrhoids, is probably of value to those who formulate healthcare legislation and policy. We are forbidden (by HIPAA privacy regulations) to create a random sample of hemorrhoid sufferers, and self-identified hemorrhoid sufferers is a biased sample.

Similarly, a survey of self-identified economists is biased. Telephone surveys are biased because of the large number of people who use caller-ID to screen-out survey calls. Man-in-the-street surveys are biased by the survey-takers who want to avoid being sprayed by Mace when the buttonhole people.

So why not create your own surveys, make up the numbers, say things that makes them seem authoritative, and publish them on the last day of the political conventions? Add in a couple of relevant Dilbert strips to give some provenance. That would have greater influence on the elections just due to your notoriety.
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Aug 21, 2008
Hi Scott,

Is not cognitive dissonance one of your favorite pet peeves in people? I have done quantitative research for over 15 years and noticed people will always find a way to ignore good data. Your survey should have some good findings, but people will disregard anything they do not believe personally. The other problem is right now McCain is deciding whether or not he can get away with a pro-choice VP and Obama is trying to figure out how to justify a Washington insider. Too many people will pay more attention to those factors than any hard data.

BTW, 500 respondents is a good number. This survey did set you back a good chunk of money, much more than your trip to Turtle Island. I have never spent more money deciding who I would vote for than on a vacation or even a good dinner as a matter of fact. Unless you charge for your survey results, I doubt I have ever spent any real money investigating a candidate. Is this the year Scott votes?


PS: If you are publishing next week, you have findings now, care to share any teasers?
Aug 21, 2008
I was so excited about being the first to comment I didn't proof read. Obviously I meant to write:

What about the old saying, "If you layed all economists end to end they still could reach a conclusion." Personally, I would rather know the opinion of 500 successful entrepreneurs regarding who would make the best candidate. Whatever the economist say, the decision is clear: Spuds or Potatoes?
Aug 21, 2008
What about the old saying, "If you layed all econmonics end to end they still could reach a conclusion." Personally I would rather the opinion of 500 successful entrepreneurs regarding would would make the best candidate. Whatever the economist say, the decision is clear: Spuds or Potatoes?
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