Economists Do It With Models

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Apparently This Is What Happens When You Lay Economists End To End…

February 2nd, 2012 · 8 Comments
Fun With Data · Policy · Random Links

I think the joke goes something like “If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but on a lot of issues it’s almost certainly true. At least now we can observe what happens when all those economists are laid end to end…

The Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago recently put together an “Economic Experts Panel” to give their viewpoints on various policy-related economic questions. Each week or so, the panel is given a statement and asked to give a response in the form of “Strongly Agree, Agree, Uncertain, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, No Opinion” and also asked to give a confidence level (from 1-10 from what I can tell, not to be confused with a “confidence interval” or a p-value) for their answer. In addition, the panelists are able to give comments about the question and give sources. The best part of all of this is that it’s freely available here.

For example, here’s the summary results for a question about taxes:

You can even scroll down to see the individual participant responses and comments, like so:

One of the first things that I notice here is that there are no slouches among the members of the panel, and the panel represents a pretty impressive sample of the country’s economists. In perusing a number of the other questions and responses, I noticed a few other interesting things:

  • I’m not going to even attempt to comment on how representative the sample of economists is, but it’s interesting nonetheless to see how in agreement these economists are on issues that supposedly have a lot of disagreement (eg. the gold standard and the tax question above) and vice versa (eg. the school voucher question). In addition, I was pleasantly surprised by the degree to which some of the answers (rightly) weren’t simply copies of not-quite-applicable Econ 101 textbook material.
  • I’m impressed by how many panelists choose the “uncertain” option in response to each question, since it’s sometimes hard to not at least pretend that you know everything. I like that economists are wiling to acknowledge when open questions are, in fact, still open.
  • I’m also impressed by the fact that a lot of the economists take a fairly nuanced view of the questions and talk about distributional concerns and such rather than just clinging to overall notions of efficiency.
  • You can subscribe to get email updates whenever there is a new question posted.

If you’re anything like me, this site is going to become quite the time sink. You may have to come and rescue me.

Tags: Fun With Data · Policy · Random Links

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Yaser // Feb 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I wonder if the solid consensus will still hold on some of these issues if you introduce a secret ballot.

    Thanks for sharing

  • 2 Tristan // Feb 2, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I agree that this is a fantastic resource, and I didn’t previously know that you could subscribe. Thanks for mentioning that.

  • 3 Punditus Maximus // Feb 3, 2012 at 4:10 am

    So what to do about the fact that a few folks are using economist credentials to work as paid hacks?

  • 4 Dan L // Feb 3, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Very interesting link! It is interesting that most of the answers are consistent with what a progressive point of view, while many are completely at odds with the ideology of the GOP.

    Specifically, the gold standard is idiotic, raising taxes really does raise revenue, CEOs are overpaid, the war on drugs is stupid, congestion pricing makes sense, etc.

    The biggest disagreement with progressive values was in the school vouchers question, and the panel was really unsure on that one.

    It’s too bad they don’t have Mankiw and Krugman on the panel. It would give Mankiw a chance to really prove his assertion that there really is a lot that economists of all stripes agree on.

  • 5 wildpokerman // Feb 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Wow thank you! Although I am supposed to be doing my econometrics homework. Oh well, what’s an hour or two in the long run anyway?

  • 6 Punditus Maximus // Feb 5, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    @Dan L: Mankiw’s got a long, sad history of saying one thing in front of knowledgable people and another in front of the public.

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