Economic Policy: The Real Expert Viewpoint

We economists are often accused of never agreeing with one another, but the accusation is often not true. It appears to be true with respect to public policy because almost every policy has winners and losers, and both sides are represented by lobbyists who find economists to support their position. Sometimes the economist is just a prostitute, but more often the economist truly believes in the position. If it's a minority view which benefits a side with lots of money, then that economist will be hired by the lobbyist to say what he truly believes.

Journalists compound the problem by trying to present both sides of the story. If the opinion split is 95-5, any good journalist can find someone in the five percent. The story faithfully presents both sides of the controversy, but gives the impression that there is a split in professional thinking where very little difference exists at all.

Occasionally surveys have been taking showing how much we are in agreement on many areas. Now the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago has taken a big step forward with its IGM Economic Experts Panel. They've recruited 40 experts from a variety of sub-fields to weigh in on a question each week.

One cool thing they do is ask panelists not only their opinion, but also the confidence with which they hold that opinion. On any given question, some respondents have researched the topic and really know the subject. Other respondents will have read some papers, attended some seminars, and feel moderately confident of their opinion. Others will have an opinion from casual observation. The answers are presented in graphics, both total responses and confidence-weighted, which is probably the one to watch.

The panel includes plenty of old names in the field of economics, as well as younger economists doing very good work. It's a bit narrow in terms of academic background: the 40 panelists come from just eight institutions. Yale looks oddly over-represented, with nobody from top programs such as Northwestern, Penn and Columbia.

So far topics include education, taxes, monetary policy–a wide range of issues. I'm in agreement with the majority on every question–so far. (And you thought I was out in right field!)

Add this site to your blogroll if you're interested in public policy.