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If a weather expert tells you what the weather will be on a specific day next year, you can safely ignore him. If he tells you a hurricane is heading your way, it's a good idea to get out of the way, even if the storm ends up turning. That's playing the odds.

Likewise, if an economist tries to tell you where the stock market will be in a year, you can safely ignore that. But if he tells you a gas tax holiday is an unambiguously bad idea, that's worth listening to, especially if economists on both sides of the aisle agree.

If you think it is okay to ignore economists because they are so often wrong, you're looking at the wrong questions. Economists are generally wrong with complicated models but right about concepts. For example, they know that additional domestic drilling won't make much of a dent in the energy problem. And they know that free trade is generally good for all economies. (You can argue with my examples, but the point is that some things are generally known by economists while not being understood by the general public.)

By analogy, a mechanic knows that changing your oil is good for your engine, but he can't tell you what problems you will have with your car next year. You shouldn't ignore the mechanic's advice on changing oil just because he doesn't know when your battery will die, or because he didn't personally perform any scientific studies on oil changes.

Doctors are often wrong, but you are still better off going to the doctor than diagnosing problems yourself. And when you get the opinions of several doctors, your odds improve, even if those several doctors aren't a scientific sample. The important thing is that following a doctor's advice, or the consensus of several doctors, increases your odds compared to the alternative. And the more doctors the better.

Some of you noted that the candidates have top economists on their payrolls, so voters can be assured any president is getting good advice. But realistically, an economist involved in a political process has to support the candidate's ideas or he's off the team. At best, one of the candidates obviously has bad economists advising him because they disagree with the other guy's economists.

Some of you noted that most economists are Democrats. Prior to doing the survey, I expected it would be the other way around. But indeed, most of the economists we surveyed are registered Democrats. But there are plenty of Republicans and independent voters in the survey so you can see how each group weighs in separately. Personally, I will be most interested in the independent voters and the economists who cross party lines.

After the results are announced I'll tell you how we cleverly found over 500 economists. There's a clear limit to how scientific you can get with your sample when it is a bunch of people who chose economics as a profession and were easily findable. But again, you have that same problem when you pick your doctor, or when you get second opinions. You're not dealing with scientific sampling.

You're going to wonder what my own political bias is. In the interest of full disclosure, I think I registered Independent the last time I voted, but frankly I don't remember. I'm not superstitious, which leads me to be socially liberal. Economically, I'm conservative. I'm closest in philosophy to an Arnold Schwarzenegger Republican. He seems to be interested in keeping the government out of people's private lives and managing things based on data as opposed to faith. Neither presidential candidate floats my boat. One wants to transfer my money to other people and the other is a lukewarm corpse. I think both candidates would be indistinguishable in foreign affairs because their options will be so constrained. Those are my biases.
 
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Sep 17, 2008
Dilbert discovers economists live in an ivory tower!

His 500 economists listed their 13 top issues and not one issue -- NOT ONE!!! -- concerned the enormous drop off in American labor bargaining power over the last 35 years -- and consequently the loss of 12.5%* of income share from lower 90 percentile earners to top 3 percentile earners over 35 years. Not one noted that (as of June 2007 anyway -- could not have changed much since the minimal minimum wage raises) FULLY 25% of American workers were earning less than LBJ's $10/hr minimum wage -- DOUBLE the average income later.

Pardon the shouting (all caps), but to my labor obsessed self that was the most important discovery of the survey.

*http://ontodayspagelinks.blogspot.com/2008/08/income-share.html
 
 
Sep 6, 2008
Some are Good Economists and some are Good Students of Economics. So goes the saying. SO, which ones are you talking of?

I see Economics as a cool thing : Two equations are all I need: [a] Greed Divided by [b] Fear = Action

Cheers
Olga Lednichenko
 
 
Aug 25, 2008
To Leora.

Okay, I admit that that statistic was incorrect, but my actual point still stands. If it wasn't for all of the restrictions and nimby attitudes, we could seriously expand nuclear generation and completely free ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels. That one statistic I incorrectly quoted had nothing to do with 95% of what I said. I apologize for the error.
 
 
Aug 25, 2008
'the other is a lukewarm corpse.'

Does that mean that every 71 year-old man is to be put into this same category despite how healthy or able-minded they are? If your only gripe against McCain is his age then you should vote for him. His experience and knowledge of world affairs put Obama to shame. I'd rather have a healthy, smart old guy than an inexperienced young guy for president any day of the week.
 
 
Aug 25, 2008
I find it interesting that the people that are so opposed to drilling as being a solution to the rising prices of oil say that increased production (read increase supply) won't have any affect on the cost of oil. Then as a rebuttal to the plan of increased domestic drilling, they indicate that to lower the cost of fuel, the goverment should release the strategic oil reserver (read increase supply).

I would say that we should do everything possible to increase domestic energy production (including wind, solar, nuclear and any other new technology that we may discover), decrease energy usage by conservertion increased energy efficiencies and what ever other means that we can find.

However my reasons for supporting this have nothing to do with the cost of energy. Right now we are being held hostage by every oil producing nation out there. If Saudi Arabia sneezes, it affects what happens here. We are involved involved in middle eastern politics be because it is in our national interest because of the oil there. There are worse things going on in other parts of the world than what was going on in Iraq but we do nothing because it is not as important to our economic security. If we didn't have the huge dependency on middle eastern oil, perhaps we wouldn't be involved in Iraq the way we are.

So, I am all for doing everything to become self sufficient in energy and reduce our dependence on the dwindling supplies of oli. We need to develop alternative sources of energy. We need to find more efficient ways to use the energy we use. But we still need to bridge the gap in the process because we didn't learn the lesson from the last energy crisis.
 
 
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Aug 25, 2008
Look Scott! Economists can even help to create more bountiful strawberry harvests.

http://www.slate.com/id/2197735/
 
 
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Aug 25, 2008
To drill more domestic oil is a bad idea, because the more you wait, the more the oil price increases. It is best to burn the oil of other countries first...
 
 
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Aug 25, 2008
tkwelge said that Canada gets half its electricity from nuclear sources. Not even close, my friend.

59% hydro
17% nuclear
21.5% coal/natural gas
2.5% wind/solar/other

I was curious to know the numbers myself, so I looked them up on the government's statistics page. These are from 2006, but likely the proportions are similar.
 
 
Aug 25, 2008

Forum www.SciAm.com/ontheweb

The Economist Has No Clothes
Unscientific assumptions in economic theory are undermining efforts to solve environmental problems BY ROBERT NADEAU


The 19th-century creators of neoclassical econom­ics—the theory that now serves as the basis for coordinating activities in the global market sys­tem—are credited with transforming their field 9HM& JHP into a scientific discipl ine. But what is not widely known is that these now legendary economists— William Stanley Jevons, Leon Walras, Maria Edgeworth and Vil-fredo Pareto—developed their theories by adapting equations from 19th-century physics that eventually became obsolete. Unfortunately, it is clear that neoclassical economics has also become outdated. The theory is based on unscientific assumptions that are hi ndering the implementation of viable economic solutions for global warming and other menacing environmental problems. The physical theory that the creators of neoclassical economics used as a template was conceived in response to the inability of Newtonian physics to account for the phenomena of heat, light and electricity. In 1847 German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz for­mulated the conservation of energy principle and postulated the existence of a field of conserved energy that fills all space and uni­fies these phenomena. Later in the century James Maxwell, Lud-wig Boltzmann and other physicists devised better explanations for electromagnetism and thermodynamics, but in the meantime, the economists had borrowed and altered Helmholtz's equations. The strategy the economists used was as simple as it was absurd—they substituted economic variables for physical ones. Utility (a measure of economic well-being) took the place of ener­gy; the sum of utility and expenditure replaced potential and kinetic energy. A number of well-known mathematicians and physicists told the economists that there was absolutely no basis for making these substitutions. But the economists ignored such criticisms and proceeded to claim that they had transformed their field of study into a rigorously mathe­matical scientific discipline.
Strangely enough, the origins of neoclassical economics in mid-19th century physics were forgotten. Sub­sequent generations of mainstream economists accepted the claim that this theory is scientific. These curi­ous developments explain why the mathematical theories used by mainstream economists are predi­cated on the following unscientific assumptions:

The market system is a closed circular flow between produc­
tion and consumption, with no inlets or outlets.
Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and dis­
tinct from a closed market system, and the economic value of
these resources can be determined only by the dynamics that
operate within this system.
The costs of damage to the external natural environment by
economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the
closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the
pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.
The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and
those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by tech­
nologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or
that rely on other resources.
There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.
If the environmental crisis did not exist, the fact that neoclas­sical economic theory provides a coherent basis for managing economic activities in market systems could be viewed as suffi­cient justification for its widespread applications. But because the crisis does exist, this theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory—the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale. Because neoclassical economics does not even acknowledge the costs of environmen­tal problems and the limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global
system into account. •Robert Nadeau teaches environmental science and public policy at George Mason University. His most recently

42
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN
April 2008
 
 
Aug 24, 2008
Scott Said: "For example, they know that additional domestic drilling won't make much of a dent in the energy problem."

QF's Response: "Who is paying you to lie like that besides maybe the oil company!? Drilling offshore in combination with new oil refineries can potentially displace all of our gas and oil imports, and it absolutely would boost our economy. Oil is abiotic in origin, being produced in the upper mantle of the Earth, and hence is far more plentiful than Peak Oil 'Fossil' Theorists would have you to believe. At any rate, figure that the costs of drilling will be largely offset by the lower operational costs of pumping and the additional cost savings of domestic production/refinement."
 
 
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Aug 24, 2008
Anyone who thinks that drilling for oil will produce more oil is an idiot? I really have a hard time with this statement. I agree that any difference will be marginal, but come on! Obviously the stuff does more good in a barrel than laying in the ground. I mean, if somebody could show me a cost benefit analysis, then I would change my mind, but nobody is doing that. All you people are doing is arguing that more supply won't effect the price, and I agree with you whole heartedly in the temporary sense. However, I still believe that any long term cost-benefit analysis will probably show us that the oil staying in the ground does us little or no good. So let me turn the tables on you. How does keeping oil in the ground make us better off? Environmentally maybe, but let's assume that we find ways to use the oil efficiently and that the oil will be used to help find other alternatives down the line.

Seriously, if we want to base our ideas off of facts rather than opinions, we need to weigh the productivity of the oil in society vs. the benefits we would receive (environmental, financial, and safety-related) by keeping the oil sitting where it is. Anything else will be opinionated hearsay. But for some reason we would rather argue about whether or not the oil lower tomorrow's prices by 5 cents or not. To make any real changes in the oil market, you need years of development and infrastructure. To me it seems that more drilling and exploration is the best solution to part of the energy problem for the next 20 years. I'm sure by then, there won't be enough untapped oil left in the world to make a difference anyway, and we'll be forced to look elsewhere, but right now more drilling and exploration is kind of a stepping stone between the old era and the new era of energy development. It's up to all of us to look for other solutions in the meantime, but let's not ignore reality.
 
 
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Aug 24, 2008
I'm finding myself at a point where I really don't know which candidate I'd vote for. I didn't major in economics in college but I recall enough to know that neither of these guys has a firm grasp of the big picture. In the last election, at least it was a clear decision to be made but definitely not because one candidate was better than another. I'm at a loss for a good analogy right now but one choice would have been compounding already catastrophic problems and the other would have just been inviting new problems, not necessarily fixing the ones we already have. I really thought this election would be more clear cut but I have serious issues with both candidates. Whoever thinks drilling for more oil is the answer is a baffoon and should be admitted to the nearest building with padded rooms because no more can be done to help them. However, I'm not persuaded that the other candidate is any better. I have worked really hard for my status in life and I'm not keen on the idea of giving it up to those less fortunate as defined by the other candidate. I was one of those less fortunate at one point and I pulled myself up by the proverbial boot straps. I think Americans need to reevaluate their definition of "less fortunate."
 
 
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Aug 24, 2008
I like how the oil argument is going. The anti-drillers keep slamming the idea of drilling more, because they believe it won't effect the price. However, I'm pro drilling, because nobody has argued how the oil does us better in the ground than in a barrel. Sure, more drilling won't lead to a drop in price of any large magnitude if any, but I thought that each incremental barrel of oil that we don't have to get from somewhere else was worth it no matter what. Plus, it seems like the anti drillers use some skewed logic. They tend to assume that we won't find any more oil and that future technologies won't allow us to use these oil deposits more efficiently. More drilling will not have any effect on prices in your immediate experiences, but if you look at the contribution to GDP that domestic drilling will make over the long run (a hundred years) vs. the benefit of just leaving it in the ground (now I know it's better for the environment to leave it in the ground, but I'm not saying that the oil shouldn't be used efficiently or that it shouldn't be conserved; I'm looking purely at the economic cost benefit analysis of drilling or not). What if this extra amount of oil contributes the development of future technology that frees us from our dependence on fossil fuels?

I'm sorry, but the anti drillers argument seems really backwards. "More drilling for oil won't increase supply." What? How does that work? I though every marginal bit was important. Of course when I say marginal I'm talking about BILLIONS AND TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN THE LONG RUN. There is no such thing as "marginal" in the great scheme of economics.

Let me just reiterate that I'm not discussing how the oil is to be used. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be conserved or used as efficiently as possible. I'm not saying alternatives shouldn't be developed. But hiding from oil that we need isn't going to make a future of alternatives more likely.

I also want to laugh at the commenter that suggested that it was "the free market that got us into this energy crisis." First you have to assume that a free market truly exists for energy in this world. There isn't. Than you have to ignore the fact that the free market wanted to build more nuclear power plants (where Canada gets half of their electricity). SO go f*ck yourself please.
 
 
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Aug 24, 2008
Scott, I have trouble reading the responses of both your liberal and conservative readers. I mean, the conservatives don't want to acknowledge the problems of the poor and the liberals burn conservative straw men, accusing them of just believing that "the free market will sort everything out." I consider myself to be a conservative and amateur economist, and I don't believe that. I also love the last post that declared being a former satellite of the USSR is a good thing to be proud of.

First of all, the USSR did not defeat us with in the early part of the space race with their "brains." They did it on the backs of the working class and with resources stolen from every corner of their empire. Sure, they did have muscle, but when 50% of your GDP goes towards military spending (as opposed to 4.5% for the US today, I'd hope you'd have some muscle. Let's call a spade a spade. The USSR was not a workers paradise, but a travesty built on the backs of confused and indoctrinated slaves. This same commenter accuses Scott of being prejudiced against albanians, but he has already explained this point before. Elbonia is supposed to be a composite of how US citizens view the poor and developing world. It does seem offensive, but maybe that's Scott's way of pointing out our prejudices by reflecting our views and showing them to us.
 
 
Aug 24, 2008
I assume this will appear within Dilbert 's designated cyberspace. If it does not, apologies in advance. With the French language version of Elbonia being what it is (awfully close to Albanian) I find it very strange that no one has totally flipped out on Scott Adams verbally or physically because of his dangerously close Albanian-Elbonian (YEAH YEAH YEAH Estonia is implied as well) bits. I don't know much about the great mystery of life and which came first the chicken or the egg but I do know this:
1) Scott Adams would never dare to spoof a non-Caucasian culture (probably because like most of us USA Caucasians are cowards when it comes to Latinos and African Americans[ Moroccans, Egyptians,Libyans, and Algerians excluded because they are not in Africa or the USA]
2) He should really meet some American-Albanians and finally see how long he has been dancing with the devil.
3) Even if he weasels and switches the spoof to Estonia, how backwards could a member of the former USSR be ? Their space program at the time surpassed ours ( by using their brains). Intelligence covered. They took half of Europe and made it their personal hand puppet for 40 years after the USA "Won" WWII and freed Europe and sub-contracted kicking our ass to Vietnam.Muscle covered. So you see that Elbonia is only a spoof on traditional clothing and our only defense to the 2 above covered areas.
 
 
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Aug 23, 2008
Can I just say that I'm not just looking forward to the results of this survey, but also the public reaction? I'd love to see the better economic candidate use this as evidence that the other candidate is a farce, see 'before and after' opinion polls on voters' faith in Obama and McCains' ability to handle the economy...

It's a pity I'm not American though.
 
 
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Aug 23, 2008
In reply to:
"I think it's funny that McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. Does Scott?"

Oh, I'm pretty sure Scott knows how many houses he owns.
 
 
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Aug 23, 2008
I'm giving up on the comments section and just reading Scott's posts. Turns out he's just waaaaaay smarter than most of his readers, especially the rabid republicans. Those poor people whose lives have been decimated by taxes, it's just too hearbreaking to handle any more.

For all you who believe the best answer is to let the free market sort it out, you are only capable of the most superficial thought. We could let the free market do it's will upon us, and the result would/will kill the entire planet (winner as yet undetermined). The so called 'free market' has no brain. It got us into the energy mess and thinks it can drill us out of it. Everyone is so very concerned about the $4 gas we've stopped noticing the weird weather, the floods, the melting ice caps. The free market doesn't want you to think about this at all. The wonderful 'free market' would be happy to kill you and everyone for a buck. The free market response to the obesity epidemic is "more twinkies!" "we need to deal with this shortage of tasty cakes and pies!!". No, "more food" won't cure the obesity problem any more than "more fossil fuels" will cure the energy problem!
 
 
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Aug 23, 2008
"For example, they know that additional domestic drilling won't make much of a dent in the energy problem."

Oh Scott. This is so nuanced. You should review Oil Econ 101: http://www.techcentralstation.com/article.aspx?id=012003A

If each additional drilling venture requires an act of Congress, no kidding, it won't make a dent. But supply is supply. And unconstraining supply just a little bit can sharply reduce price, just as the slight tightening of supplies relative to demand earlier this year led to dramatic price increases. It's the marginal supply and the marginal demand that affect the clearing price.

With all that said, I trust the market to sort out supply and demand for energy much more than I trust any politician with a plan. The current "plan" has heavily subsidized stupid fuel (corn), driving up food prices. It has kept proven oil reserves offline and thus caused the volatility in prices. I'm not one to get upset about "foreign oil", but our unwillingness to exploit domestic sources has propped up prices and given dictators like Chavez and various grades of Islamofascists cash to prop up their screwed up regimes and stir up disproportionate trouble. If either McCain or Obama had a "plan" to just get the hell out of the way, it would be a winner.
 
 
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Aug 23, 2008
I think it's funny that McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns. Does Scott?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PJRMmf1KZQ
 
 
 
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