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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Aug 22, 2008
Scott, as a general proposition, I think you're spot on. However, I have one cautionary note, and that is that some economic arguments are made with political objectives in mind. I thoroughly distrust those. For example, using one of your points, I've never heard an argument against free trade that had an economic leg to stand on, but there are some bona fide economists who nevertheless make it. When you look closely, you will see that what you're hearing is a political argument in economic clothes. For what it's worth...Frank Paine
Aug 22, 2008
Socially Liberal Fiscally (economically) Conservative = Libertarian.

The basic tenent of the Libertarian policy can be summed up as "You don't mess with me, I won't mess with you." Where essentially the government should back out of our lives completely, as long as you aren't infringing on peoples liberties then you should be allowed to do whatever the hell you want to. They are also big into the free market, again let it do whatever it wants to as long as it isn't messing with others liberties. If the market fails, let it fall and build itself back up rather than bailing it out.

Bob Barr is definitely a libertarian although it is a bit odd since the libertarian party caused him to lose his congressional seat back in the 90s. I wish I could vote for Bob Barr but he didn't get enough signatures to get on the WV ballot so I'm stuck with Nader.

To anyone out there, if you don't like either McCain or Obama please research the third party candidates available on your states ballot and vote for one of them as a protest vote if nothing else. If we can get the numbers up on third party candidates the politicians out there will have to start listening to the people rather than the lobbyists and special interests. Also do your best to change your state level representatives so that it is easier for third party candidates get on the federal office ballots. That is the only way to truly change how our government is being run.
Aug 22, 2008

Even optimistic studies only show domestic drilling increasing worldwide production of oil by around 2%. While it would likely have an immediate impact on prices, it would only be a few cents per gallon.

There's another economic factor that influences whether we should drill that is almost universally ignored. If the price of oil is predicted to continue to rise faster than inflation postponing drilling makes economic sense because the value will continue to increase. For example the estimated oil in ANWR is worth about one trillion dollars more today than it would have been if we had started drilling in the '70s when Republicans first started pushing for it.
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Aug 22, 2008
There's one 'small' difference between mechanics and doctors, on one side, and economists, on the other. No serious doctor or mechanic will try to tell you what is going to happen to your car or your body next week. A lot of 'serious' economists make a living (a nice living, I'll add) doing the equivalent...
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Aug 22, 2008
First, a quick thanks for doing this study! It's nice to see some study being done by someone who doesn't appear to have an axe to grind (although I hear from a recent study that axes shouldn't be ground, they should be laser etched - I think some laser etching company paid for that one...). I particularly like the size of the sample. As a trained chemist I can tell you that the "expert witness" thing is what it appears to be - hire someone to agree with you, and they will manipulate data and logic knowingly to make your case (if your case doesn't have actual science behind it) - economists attached to political campaigns are just as bad.

There probably is a chicken/egg thing here as to why more economist are D's, just like why more college professors are D's, but with good cross tabs, you should be able to keep the results pretty clean. More than D or R, I'd worry about if the economists work for trade groups - those folks have similar pressures to lie/mislead in a PR way to try to boost their sector (check out the economists working for Las Vegas real estate firms who have proudly claimed every 30 days that the "bottom of our market is here" for the last 18 months in desperate hopes to help sell some houses).

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Aug 22, 2008
Norman, if you check Scott's previous posts, you'll see there has been a software problem which meant that even he lost a post!

Yes, there is the potential that this is a lying plot to cover up for his deletion of your post.

But then again maybe not.

On the oil, I agree with the principles you've raised - I suspect everybody does. Where people differ is in their views of how big an impact that will have, which is a question of how much oil you put onto the market how quickly, which is at best a guess about somebody else's decisions and therefore there will be a spread of opinions of varying likelihood.

Scott - the choice isn't between the chap who is going to make you poor and the walking corpse - it's between the chap who's going to make you poor and the vice-walking corpse. Potentially.

Any way, enjoy all this. I'm off to Ukraine for the week and hoping that the planes, tanks and infantry of the New Soviet World Order don't decide to cross another border.
Aug 22, 2008

I am glad that you are including dems, repubs and independents, but I disagree with your suggestion that the independnets are necessarily the best group to pay attention to. You've mentioned this idea many times in the past, and it doesn't quite hold up.

It is possible that one party or the other has a better grasp of economic principals than the other. It is possible that the general economic policies of one party are better -- in the views of smart economists -- than the other. That is, it is possible that some (most?) ecnomomists choose their party based on their economic principles, rather than the other way around.

So, why not look to which party the economy has done better under, for that last thirty or fourty years? Is one party better for jobs? For growing the economy? For the budget deficit? For investing in infrastructure? If one party was better at all of those, wouldn't the economists who support that party be the smarter group? And those who didn't realize that that one party or the other had better ideas be somewhat dumber?


And this leads to another point. What does it mean to be good in this policy area? What is you goal?

Jobs are important. Income inequality is kinda bad. The trade deficit is..., oh, I don't know. The budget deficit seems bad. Investing in infrastructure doesn't matter in the short term, but makes a big difference in the long term.

What if you can't maximize all three? Did you ask what their goals are?

You see, the goals are not a technical problem, they are a political problem. Some people might want a lower budget deficit, regardless of what it does not jobs. Other might prefer the converse. Or one balance point or another.

It is the job of the politics for a community/country to decide what the goals are, that the best technical solutions might be found. Your economists are technicians, not sages.


It's like buying a car. Do you want luxury? Do you want fuel economy? Do you want to save money up front? Do you want the safest car? The fastest? There are all valid goals. There is no technical answer to the best car. Engineers can only come up with answer when the goals are specified.

Just like economists.

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Aug 22, 2008
Scott, you need to take the political compass test (or one of the many equivalents) You might be a libertarian!

I'd be interested to see where your econimists fall on a true scale, rather than the false "left-right" one everyone uses. Note how every single main stream politician in the us is upper right quadrant.... sad.

I find myself firmly in the lower right quadrant, where there are very few politicians, except for that "crazy" Mike Gravel (maybe I should have voted for him)

It's too bad the "libertarian party" is not really very libertarian, Bob Barr is NOT a libertarian.
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