Economists seem unable to agree on anything.
But when they do share the same view point, it’s on a point that everyone else — you know, normal people — doesn’t seem to agree with.
Ethan Harris, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, analysed the results of various economist surveys, and his findings highlight why most people can’t stand listening to economists.
The first part is obvious — economists are always debating. “Freshwater” economists are worried about economic efficiency and support laissez faire policies, while “saltwater” economists are worried about distribution and support government intervention. And there’s anything and everything in between to disagree on.
“Academic discussion often devolves into some fairly narrow, nitpicky debates,” Harris writes in a note to clients on Tuesday. “The press often likes to present sharply different views to spice up the discussion. And economic ideas are often used, and abused, to justify political positions.”
But economists don’t always disagree. Which is what creates the problems.
One of the great ironies of the public policy debate is that economists tend to have the strongest consensus on topics “in which their opinions are most distant from those of average Americans.” For example, economists are big proponents of free trade, including NAFTA. And yet, polls show that only 46% of Americans think NAFTA is good for the economy. Even more ironic: “informing people of the expert opinion does not have much impact on the responses of ordinary Americans.” Told that experts thought NAFTA was good for the economy increased support among those polled to only 51%.
Harris has a few reasons, however, why Americans should accept the consensus of economists when they do exist.
For one, economists are trained experts — not pundits — and when they do agree, it’s typically in the most researched areas of their field.
Harris adds that economists show a much higher willingness than others to say when they are uncertain about it. Thus, in his view consensus comes from “highly informed opinions.”
And as Harris writes, “Maybe there is a good reason that economics is the most popular college major and the highest paid profession in the social sciences?”
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