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As promised, here are the results of my survey of economists. You can see three views into the results today, and I plan to blog more about it this week. 

(Format problems are because my blogging software is finnicky.)

 

1. My opinion on the results, on CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/16/dilbert.economy/index.html
 

2. Detailed survey data: http://dilbert.com/dyn/ppt/Draft-report--9-3-08.ppt

 

3. Press release (below)

  

[Some contact information removed here]

 Dilbert Survey of Economists Democratic Economists Favor Obama. Republican Economists Favor McCain. Independents Lean Toward Obama. 


Dublin, CA (September 10, 2008) – 
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, commissioned a survey of over 500 economists to find out which candidate for President of the United States would be best for the economy long term.

Says Adams, “I found myself wishing someone would give voters useful and unbiased information about which candidate has the best plans for the economy. Then I realized that I am someone, which is both inconvenient and expensive.”

At considerable personal expense, Adams commissioned a survey of over 500 economists, drawn from a subset of the members of the American Economic Association, a non-political group, some of whose members had agreed in advance to be surveyed on economic questions. The results do not represent the AEA’s position. The survey was managed by The OSR Group, a respected national public opinion and marketing research company.

Nationally, most economists are male and registered as either Democrats or Independents. The survey sample reflects that imbalance.

 

48%     Democrats

17%     Republicans

27%     Independents

3%       Libertarian

5%       Other or not registered

86% of the economists surveyed are male, and 65% work in the field of academia or education. The rest are spread across various industries or not working.

When asked which candidate for President would be best for the economy in the long run, not surprisingly, 88% of Democratic economists think Obama would be best, while 80% of Republican economists pick McCain. Independent economists, who in this sample are largely from the academic world, lean toward Obama by 46% compared to 39% for McCain. Overall, 59% of the economists say Obama would be best for the economy long term, with 31% picking McCain, and 8% saying there would be no difference.

The economists were asked to rank the most important economic issues and pick which candidate they thought would do the best job on those issues. 
 Rank   Issues                            Obama      McCain     No Diff.

1          Education                          59%           14%           27%

 

2          Health care                        65%           20%           15%

 

3          International trade              26%           51%           23%

 

4          Energy                              61%           22%           17%

 

5          Encouraging
           
Technology/innovation       43%           23%           34%

 

6          Wars and 
            
homeland security              58%           30%           11%

 

7          Mortgage/housing crisis     41%           18%           41%

 

8          Social Security                  40%           24%           35%

 

9          Environmental policy          72%             9%           19%

 

10        Reducing the deficit           37%           29%           33%

 

11        Immigration                       33%           29%           38%

 

12        Increasing taxes                 79%           14%             7%

            on wealthy

 

13        Reducing waste                 16%           38%           46%

            in government

 

The economists in the survey favor Obama on 11 of the top 13 issues. But keep in mind that 48% are Democrats and only 17% are Republicans. Among Independents, things are less clear, with 54% thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better.

Adams puts the survey results in perspective: “If an economist uses a complicated model to predict just about anything, you can ignore it. By analogy, a doctor can’t tell you the exact date of your death in 50 years. But if a doctor tells you to eat less and exercise more, that’s good advice even if you later get hit by a bus. Along those same lines, economists can give useful general advice on the economy, even if you know there will be surprises. Still, be skeptical.”

[Some contact information removed]

Interview requests for Scott Adams can be directed to
scottadams@aol.com. Adams will only be responding by e-mail for the next few months due to some minor surgery to fix a voice issue.


Update:
Some of you will wonder how reliable a bunch of academics are when it comes to answering real life questions about the economy. You might prefer to know what CEOs think. But remember that CEOs are paid to be advocates for their stockholders, not advocates for voters. Asking CEOs what should be done about the economy is like asking criminals for legal advice. More on that this week.

 

And for my view on the value economists: http://dilbert.com/blog/?Date=2008-08-22

 
Any help in distributing this information across the Internet would be appreciated.
 

The result of my survey of economists is delayed one more day (I think). I’m timing it to run with an opinion piece I wrote for CNN.com, but the news about Lehman Brothers squeezed it off the page at the last minute.

[Insert your own joke about not having time to hear what economists say because we’re too busy with bank closures.]

I thought Hurricane Ike was going to bump my story today. There’s always something. I released my book God’s Debris in September 2001. That turned out to be a bad month for authors to get media attention. Another book, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel was released the same month that the infamous Beltway Sniper was making national headlines. I was on my book tour, and all of my media appearances depended on how accurate the sniper was that morning.

I remember having dinner with a group of book publishers and asking them how many great undiscovered authors there are. They answered unanimously “none.” It was their view that every good author can get published because the publishing industry is scratching the dirt to find them. I think that’s mostly true. But how many books an author sells has a lot to do with what is happening in the news.

My first hardcover book, The Dilbert Principle, hit its stride in the summer, when there wasn’t much else happening in the news. The media attention was enormous. It was an easy and fun story and there wasn’t a lot of competition for people's attention. Sales were huge. But if it had launched during September of 2001, as my book God’s Debris did, it would have tanked. God's Debris was a solidly successful book, but sold maybe a tenth of its potential.

Timing is everything.

 
It is 54 degrees outside. Inside my home it is 80 degrees. At night, as the outdoors gets cooler, the inside of my home continues to get warmer, at least with the windows closed. It's a relatively safe neighborhood, but not safe enough to leave a downstairs window open. Opening upstairs windows alone hardly makes a dent in the temperature.

Most of the heat comes from thermal mass I presume, meaning the walls and floors and ceilings store the heat from the day and release it all night, much to my sleeping displeasure. I can't sleep at temperatures above 75 degrees. We have some electronics plugged in, but not too much in that department.

As I walk the dog at 5:30 am, many of the neighbors have their windows closed and the air conditioning running. I reiterate that it is 54 degrees outside.

All of the homes in this development were built about five years ago. I'm sure they meet or exceed all the codes for energy use. And yet many of us are running our air conditioning when it is 54 degrees outside.

All we need to solve this problem is a downstairs window that has both a screen (for bugs) and jail bars (for intruders). The trick is to make the jail bars not look like jail bars, so there is some chance the homeowners association would allow them. The jail bars need not be grey vertical bars. They could be a design that adds a cool and funky look to your portal. For example, the barrier against intruders could be a peace sign, or a happy face, or a pine tree, whatever. And it could be whatever color works with your house.

Obviously this sort of solution is only useful in places and seasons where it is hot during the day and cool at night. But that is a lot of places.

Ideally that window, and a few upstairs, would be motorized and on a remote, so you can close them without getting out of bed if it gets too cold inside.

But my real question is this: If it is colder outside than inside, is there any reason you shouldn't run the air conditioning with your upstairs windows open?
 

On July 29th I wrote in this blog that I fantasize about being a candidate for President and using the line “My opponent thinks voters are stupid.” I opined that it would be a killer line and make world headlines.

http://dilbert.com/blog/?Date=2008-07-29

On September 6th, Obama was talking about Republicans in his speech and said, “I mean come on, they must think you’re stupid!” It made world headlines:

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/09/06/obama-republicans-must-think-you’re-stupid/

I figured it was a coincidence. It’s not as if the Obama campaign is reading The Dilbert Blog. But yesterday Google Alert vacuumed up a mention of my name from some corner of the Internet and delivered it to the BlackBerry in my left front pant pocket. I learned that strangers with no credibility have put me on the list of Top-10 Web Celebrities for 2008-2009. To my surprise, someone is actually reading this blog. I always thought all the comments here were from one crazy stalker pretending to be different people.

http://top--10.blogspot.com/2008/09/top-10-web-celebrities-2008-2009.html

The odd thing about blogging, or writing a book, is that you never know who is paying attention. But I do expect a lot of people will visit this blog on Monday when I release the results of my survey of economists, assuming that happens as planned.

One of the things that get me out of bed in the morning is having at least one project brewing that could change the world, no matter how unlikely. My survey of economists fits that model. I don’t expect it to affect this election, but there is a non-zero chance it will change the type of information voters demand. Ideally, someone else would fund a study of economists next year. (It is pricey.)

 
 
Europe's Large Hadron Collider just fired up. It's a $10 billion particle accelerator designed to probe the mysteries of the universe. I think it is worth the money if we can find just one unicorn. But I would also settle for an elf, or free will, or Jimmy Hoffa's body. I'm just saying I'm not fussy when it comes to discovering stuff.

The downside of this project is the small chance it will create a black hole and annihilate the galaxy. It will take months for the machine to be fully functional, and during that time it gives nerds the ultimate seduction opportunity. It's the classic end-of-the-world gambit, as in "The universe could end any moment. Do you really want to take the chance of waiting another ten minutes to find a more suitable partner?"

Obviously this scheme depends on finding a potential lover who isn't good at physics and doesn't read much, also known as "the best kind."

As a public service to my readers, allow me to rule out some pickup lines suggested by the particle accelerator that are unlikely to be effective. For example, avoid any version of these:

"Let's make like particles and collide."

"Have you heard of the Big Bang theory?"

"Once you've had dark matter, you'll never get fatter."

"You'd better jump me now. The last time I was available a quark lepton."

"I like your bosons."

"Want to come back to my tunnel and see my Hadron Collider? It's huge."

Any one of those lines will make your potential lover prefer annihilation.
 
Recently I was gigantic. Or so it seemed because I was attending a school open house and sitting in a tiny chair designed either for a small child or an elf with one buttock. Context is everything.

I was thinking about context as I observed with fascination McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The immediate response from my lefty friends was that McCain was insane to pick a running mate with such a thin resume. That's one possibility. The other explanation is more interesting.

My first response to McCain's decision was to assume that Republicans did not suddenly forget how to win elections. If selecting Palin was a brilliant strategy in disguise, how exactly was it supposed to work?

Context.

McCain had a context problem. He was an old (too old) white guy from the failed establishment running against a younger and more exotic agent of change. It was a losing context. His choice of Palin changed the context.

Since selecting Palin, the discussion in the media and in kitchens across America has shifted from "Can you be too old to be President?" to "Can you be too young and inexperienced?" McCain has cleverly put his critics in the position of arguing that experience is a good thing. And McCain has more of it than Obama. If you believe that people only vote for presidents, not vice presidents, this was a clever move.

The Democrats' other big argument against McCain was that he's a phony maverick who won't really change anything. It's hard to make that case while at the same time criticizing him for making such a surprising pick for Vice President. You can argue with Palin's credentials, but you can no longer argue with McCain's willingness to buck conventional wisdom. That book is closed.

On the more obvious side of things, picking a young woman insulates McCain from being the charter member of the Old Boy's Club. It's politically correct to say voters are smart. But clearly there are millions of exceptions. Some voters prefer candidates who look like them, end of story. Palin will increase McCain's support from female votes and hardcore conservatives.

Palin also has the benefit of making McCain look more presidential by comparison. Call it the Dan Quayle effect. By way of contrast, Obama is in the position of having a running mate who is clearly more experienced than him, just as smart, and lacks only charisma. That exacerbates Obama's problem of looking like a celebrity and not a leader.

If Palin survives all the scandals and rumors, the argument against her comes down to experience. But how important is experience for a president? Quick, name a presidential mistake that was caused by inexperience as opposed to stupidity, laziness, bad luck, or any of a dozen other reasons. I'm no historian, but I can't think of any presidential mistakes attributed to inexperience.

Palin would have been the wrong choice for just about any other presidential candidate. But in the context of McCain's campaign against Obama, it might have been a brilliant campaign strategy. Is this another example of McCain being underestimated, or was it simply a brain misfire of an old man who ran out of time?

Frankly, I can't tell.
 

A recent study found that the sound of expensive sports cars increases testosterone in both men and women, thus causing arousal. I didn’t believe it until I played the video of the Maserati, the most potent car they studied. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, but I did feel a surge of something.

http://blog.wired.com/cars/2008/09/weve-got-some-b.html 

This solved one of the great riddles of my life. Every summer a group of classic car enthusiasts gathers in my area to compare cars and whatnot. The odd thing I noticed is that the men are generally bearded, out of shape, and unattractive. But the women accompanying them are often very attractive. Now I know why. Apparently the sound of custom car engines is like catnip to hot chicks.

The great thing about the testosterone study is that you don’t need to buy an expensive car to get the benefits. You can just play a recording of the engine sounds and your partner will be ready for action. The problem is figuring out how to introduce a sports car engine noise into your romantic evening.

The sneakiest method I can think of would be to have some recorded street sounds on your home music system turned down low, so it sounds like it is coming from outside. Every once in awhile you could mutter something like “damn kids need to slow down” and then return your attention to your date, who by this time is shedding clothes like a trailer park in a tornado.

I also wonder what other sights, sounds, smells, and textures boost testosterone. Someone needs to study this more thoroughly. Obviously porn does the trick for men, and the smell of pumpkin pie, according to other studies. Women are more mysterious. I once saw a study where sensors were attached to shoppers. For men, there was no special change in their bodies except boredom. For women, the stereotype held, and the instrument panel lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as they entered a store. So I think the sound of shopping would boost the happy feeling for many women. I realize how sexist that sounds, but you can’t argue with junk science.

The perfect montage of sounds for a woman might be something along the lines of ocean waves, followed by the Maserati, expensive shoes on fine marble, mall noise, credit card swiping, ruffling of a shopping bag, and then the sound of wine pouring into a glass, with a fireplace crackling in the background. I’d also add the sound of a chainsaw somewhere in the distance, so the woman can imagine her personal lumberjack getting wood for the fire.


What do you think?

 
One of my favorite thoughts, and I think it came from a movie, is that the reason to get married is to have a witness to your life. It's the sort of idea that might not strike you immediately as brilliant, but over time it unfolds.

Another great quote along those same lines - and I wish I knew who said it - goes something like "You're not a writer until a writer tells you you're a writer." I had that experience when Dilbert was first accepted for syndication, and my editor told me I was a cartoonist. Until that moment, I wasn't. Literally the moment she told me I was a cartoonist, the quality of my drawing improved about 30%.

I think this is the same reason little kids continuously chirp "Mommy, look at me! Look at me!" They are struggling to get a witness, to know they exist.

It's nice to think that you can be your own person, true and accountable to no one but yourself, but I don't think life works that way. We are what other people allow us to be. We exist more in their perceptions than in our own, if you had some way to add it all up and compare.

I was thinking of this as I finished a first draft of my survey of economists. (Yes, you will see it. I need to get it right.) I sent it to my friend whose opinion I value, asking for some comments.  As I sent it, I realized my writing doesn't fully exist until he comments. It lives in some sort of Schroedinger's cat half-state. If he likes it, then it becomes real. If not, it will quickly seem as though it never existed. I will rewrite from scratch.

The key to life is picking the right witnesses. Thanks for being mine.

 
I have a theory that everyone is born with the same amount of luck, but it gets distributed unevenly. Some people have their best lucky days in childhood and run out of good fortune by the time they enter the job market. Others struggle early on and strike it rich later in life. Call it the Magic Johnson Effect. He had the perfect life and then contracted HIV. Or take most famous politicians or celebrities; their highs are almost perfectly matched by their lows. Even lottery winners tend to attract tragedy. It is as if the universe is trying to smooth out things.

You also know people who have never had a truly great year or a truly horrible one. They coast along at average.

There is no science to support my theory of luck distribution, but the anecdotal evidence is abundant. Take for example all the world leaders who spent some time in jail, either before or after hitting the big time. Or consider all the musicians who had lines of groupies and then died in a plane crash. Is it all a coincidence?

Yes. Or else our so-called reality really is a computer program.
 
Yesterday I asked what role the government should have in fostering alternative energy breakthroughs. The people who think the government can help a lot with this sort of thing often cite two examples:

1. Kennedy's race to the moon

2. The Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb

What do those two efforts have in common? Answer: no profit.

That's entirely different from the energy situation. Whoever figures out a way to cheaply turn seawater into fuel is going to be very rich. I would be surprised if there are any good ideas in the energy field going unfunded at the moment. My guess is that the energy investment environment has already become like the Dotcom era where venture capitalists were (figuratively) randomly knocking on dorm rooms and asking if anyone had any Internet ideas.

Someone said government can help remove red tape, or twist the arms of big companies where that needs to happen. But isn't that the reverse of how our system works? It seems to me that big companies are twisting the arms of government. So while we might wish it were the other way, reality is stubborn. And realistically, can we expect government to remove red tape?

Every now and then I have hunches about the future that feel both real and inevitable. My current hunch is that individual homes will become their own energy sources. This won't require any help from the government. All you need are three components that seem like they are creeping up on us:


1. More efficient solar cells (breakthroughs are coming daily)

2. Energy storage technology for the home, perhaps based on this:

     http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/oxygen-0731.html

3. Financing for solar cell installations


If you finance your installation of solar cells with a loan that costs you $300 a month, and save $400 a month in energy costs, you are cash positive on day one. At that point it also makes sense to have an electric car. There won't be much red tape to worry about in this model because every house is an island, and private companies can manufacture all of the parts.

I don't see the government having much of a role in creating that new world.

 
 
 
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