As regular readers know, I funded a survey of over 500 economists to see which candidate for President of the United States has the most support from economic experts. I will publish the results in a press release and in this blog late next week unless something slows me down, such as getting assassinated.

Voters say the economy is the most important issue to them. Foreign affairs will keep dropping down the list of importance now that the current administration supports a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. So how does a voter decide which candidate would be best for the economy?

Yesterday Reuters/Zogby announced a poll that showed, among other things, which candidate the voters think would manage the economy better. This is like asking people who have hemorrhoids the best way to treat a brain tumor. Shouldn't we be asking brain surgeons?

Forgive me for not caring what your grandma thinks of NAFTA. I want to know which economic policies seem best according to the majority of economists. I got tired of waiting for someone else to give me some useful information and decided to go get it myself. Democracy without useful information is random. This isn't a good time in history to be making random decisions.

I woke up this morning with the strange feeling that I might own the most important information in the world. Although 90% of voters have made up their mind, the race is so tight that the remaining 10% will settle things. If the media reports the results of my survey of economists, will it influence independent voters and thus the arrow of history? Probably not. But you can't rule it out.

When I announce the results I will include all the disclaimers about its accuracy and usefulness, and there will be plenty. But if you ignore the opinions of 500 economists you are either a well-informed genius who needs no advice, or an idiot who doesn't realize it would be helpful. (Those two conditions feel exactly the same.) For those in the middle, I would think you'd care what the experts think.
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Aug 21, 2008
The only economists who count in my book are Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of _Freakonomics_, and you, Scott. Dubner and Levitt because they know what's going on in the world, and you because you ask such good questions and make such good suggestions.

In general, however, economists are no more kowledgeable asbout the economy than stockkbrokers are about the stock market. They do have a lot of historical and theoretical knowledge about the economy, and they can do complicated calculus problems (I can't), but they are no different from the rest of the political ideologues who advocate the mythical free market or protection for home-based industries. Most human beings vote with their feet and their pocketbooks. Even those who are not in a position to benefit from one economic position versus another are willing to vote based on a wing and a prayer that someday they too will benefit from free or protected trade. Just look at all the jerks who voted for Reagan and Bush-the-Simian twice. Only the rich have benefitted because of these guys, but ideologues vote their biases, not the logical and rational choices they might have made had they even been able to dispassionately analyze their political, social, and economic options.

In the end, we all get what we deserve, and Americans seem to have a passion for shooting themselves in the foot when they enter the polling booths. Don't forget that there are actually Americans who believe that their gaspump prayers caused the price of gasoline and crude oil to go down. Yup. God works in even more mysterious ways than the economy.

Which bozo we elect won't matter much economically, I fear. but it will tell us a great deal more about the American psyche. We already know that the typical American voter is blind and stupid and xenophobic and arrogant and sexist and racist to the core. This election will tell us how inherently self-destructive the typical American voter is. The Bushes have given us social and political HIV. McCain will guarantee full-blown social and political AIDS. Obama will certainly not cure the disease, but he may just be the stopgap !$%*!$%* that the USA needs to fight its way back to social and political and economic health. I did say "may".

I can't bring myself to vote forr the president of a country whose citizens and polittical candidates think that the religious beliefs of the candidates (and that they must have them) are important enough to spend time bull-puckying about. You can have your election and your president and all your religious nuts. I left the USA 26 years ago and have no desire to return.
Aug 21, 2008
If you teach a parrot the words "supply" and "demand", you have an economist.
Aug 21, 2008
Probably not a good idea to trust economists. A quote from Milton Friedman:

“In such an economy there is only one social responsibility of business- to use it’s resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open free competition, without deception or fraud.”

No morale obligations? Yikes! I want him in charge of my HMO.

I also read a book called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
by Dan Ariely. He is a behavopiral economist. The books shows that people, inculding economists, will make irrational decisions, not the rational ones that economics would dictate.

We are pretty much screwed no matter who wins so the rational choice is to vote for someone that can't win, and seems honest. That way you can complain about how things are screwed up and it's not your fault because your candidate lost. Vote Nader!!
Aug 21, 2008
Scott you could certainly warm us up now by telling us how the 500 were selected, which is of interest particularly given that their number is a small percentage - less than 1% - of the number of people in the country who would be either professionally or self-described as "economist".

I'd be interested and of course we could begin to speculate as to how, given the selection criteria you've applied, the chosen 500 will turn out to have voted.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
Scott, I'll be interested to see the results, and I'm grateful for your initiative. I'm hopeful that 500 respondents will give a statistically significant sample with participants all across the bell curve of political ideology.

"The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." - Jean Luc Picard.

Whoever wrote those words into Stewart's character had his eye firmly fixed upon a better way of life. The post quoting RFK says much the same thing. Now, we can't let our economy tank, but we definitely need to be thinking about alternatives to neverending economic expansion, which will only tend to widen the gap between the 5% of the people who control 95% of our resources, and the rest of us.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
"If the media reports the results of my survey of economists, will it influence independent voters and thus the arrow of history? Probably not. But you can't rule it out."

Depends on whether you can weave it into a week-long series of a popular comic called Dilbert.

"Subtly", of course!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
Necessary bits of information which cannot be predetermined:

Which candidate will actually Implement his plan?

And will the next President of the United States be Permitted to implement his plan?
Aug 21, 2008
Wrong on so many counts that I'll bet (without reading them) that most, if not all, of my points have already been made by someone else in their posts. But here goes anywyay.

First off, you are not a political figure; you are a cartoonist. You can't get assassinated, only murdered. Sorry.

Next, have you happened to notice what's going on in Georgia? No, not the state. The former Soviet Republic. So when you say that "Foreign affairs will keep dropping down the list. . ." I am tempted to ask what you've been smoking. Moreover, have you seen what's happened to the price of oil since Putin marched into Georgia? If not, in a couple of words, it's up. Significantly. So you may wish to rethink your desire to put the economy and foreign policy into separate silos. They're interrelated. Duh.

Moreover, your native elitism is showing. Again. I DO care what someone's grandmother thinks about NAFTA. To not care is to say that we must all be ruled, not governed. Your attitude is that the electorate is too stupid to look at the issues and make decisions; that they must rely on 'experts' who often have conflicting views to make up their minds for them. Strong words, coming from someone who doesn't even vote.

That's how we got into this whole anthropogenic global warming BS. Oh, by the way, Scott, have you heard that the first half of 2008 was significantly cooler than 2007? Have you also heard that the sunspot activity is way down? Gee, how about that. What do your experts say?

Finally, you are trying to convice us that somehow polling 500 economists will prove something. What it will prove is their political bias, not what they think that any one man, even the president, can do to affect the economy. The economy is cyclical, Scott. It goes up, and it goes down. The best thing the government can do for it is to get out of the way. Your poll isn't going to be worth the paper it takes to print it. Once again, your intellect has gotten in the way of your common sense. You aren't the smartest man in the world, Scott, and you're certainly not smarter than the combined wisdom of 300,000,000 other Americans.

So, when are you going to come out in support of a monarchy, Scott?
Aug 21, 2008
Milton Friedman is the most respected economist of the 20th century. Friedman says in all cases raising taxes and increasing government slows down the economy. This is principle is pretty universally known by now.

Given that Obama wants to do exactly that, if we find these 500 economists think Obama has the better way, we'll know that the fix is in.

Why do I have the feeling it will turn out that way?
Aug 21, 2008
I'm looking forward to seeing the results of this, but I do wish you had opened up the questions you were going to ask to a bit of discussion. I mean, ultimately it's your survey, and I'm sure it's comprehensive about looking at the background and history of the economists you surveyed. But still, I think that the intended audience of this project is likely to be a really scrutinizing bunch and on the lookout for any sign of bias or missing information. The results are only as exciting as the rigger of the methodology used to get them.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
You could even up in one of those little squares in the corner of history books that nobody reads.
It could say some thing like
"some even say that had it not been for a cartoonist named scott adams running a poll of econimists <insert candidates name here> would not have won the election of 2008"
or something along those lines.
There is a reason I don't write text books.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
Objective measurable reasons are actually the least logical reason to justify voting for someone. We can be reasonably certain that any candidate who gets elected will employ some reasonably qualified economists, and 99.9% of the population aren't going to be able to determine which is the best. If there was a definite best way to do things, then all candidates would do that.

Subjective reasons are the only ones that matter. Is it better to lower taxes or increase government services? As a powerful nation, with a belief in what's right, do we have a responsibility to fight in wars that mainly concern other countries? Is the death penalty justifiable on moral grounds?

None of these have a right or wrong answer. Most people will argue about their viewpoint a lot more passionately than "the economy". The only thing that makes sense is to choose a candidate whose views on these subjective matters match your own most closely.

Part of the problem is that people aren't aware what the subjective and objective questions are. They don't realise that they have no clue about the economy, and are completely unable to judge which candidate may be crooked, or even more things such as the cost/benefit ratio of biofuels.
Aug 21, 2008

I'm not sure this poll will give data of any significance. Look at the case of hedge fund managers. Most hedge fund managers had great credentials, degrees, etc. coming in, but are no better at creating good returns than other, less risky, investment vehicles. There are only a few who really have a good idea for going on and make high returns consistently. Along with political affiliation it would be nice to see these economists' previous predictions on the influence of politics into the economy and what percentage of the time they were right, that way even if only 20% agreed with one plan, we could see whether or not that 20% had the best track record.
Aug 21, 2008
Actually ignorance is no inhibitor to democracy in a two party system. Ignorant voters are likely to spilt equally between the two main parties nullifying each other's votes. Informed voters, whether they make up 1% or 99% of the electorate will therefore make the decision.
Aug 21, 2008
What average (ie: non-experts) but interested people think does have some bearing on reality: this is why prediction markets work so well.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 21, 2008
Scott -

It's worth noting that economists in the academic field tend to skew to the Democrat's side. From Wikipedia:

"The vast majority [of economists], 63%, identify as progressive and less than 20% as conservative or libertarian.[17] In a 2004 survey of 1,000 American economists, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by a 2.5 to 1 ratio. The majority of economists favored "safety regulations, gun control, redistribution, public schooling, and anti-discrimination laws," while opposing "tighter immigration controls, government ownership of enterprise and tariffs."[18] Other surveys have found Democrats to outnumber Republicans 2.8 to 1 among members of the profession."

That's from the Wikipedia page on the Democratic Party of the United States.

The Von Mises Institute of Austria had an interesting opinion on this disparity, in an article called "Why Intellectuals Still Support Socialism"


The general gist of the article is that the academic world favors intervensionism and socialism, even in economics. Their reasoning for this reminds me of something George F. Will once wrote: "Intellectuals can't stand the free market because the free market works without the supervision of intellectuals."

If the economists you surveyed are mostly from the academia, it wouldn't surprise me if they came out favoring the Democrats' platform. But is an Econ professor from, say, Stanford or USC anymore qualified or educated on markets and economic issues than, say, the CFO of a major Real Estate Investment firm. What the Von Mises article states is that economics students who lean left generally go into the academic world, whereas economics students who lean right generally go into the private sector. Economists are still subject to the petty biases that virtually everyone else is.

I'll end with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill: "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal distribution of blessings. The inherent vice of socialism is the equal distribution of misery."
Aug 21, 2008
I do suspect it will make some difference and with an election this close it could be the deciding difference. However, I also suspect that although lots of people say that the economy is the most important thing, they will vote based on other more easily defined and predicted things, where there are strong contrasts between the candidates like roe vs. wade, gay marriage. And though you may think it doesn't make sense to vote on these, ultimately this is a lasting and direct impact of a president since he gets to pick Supreme Court Justices who serve for life. Whereas, there is some debate as to how much control over the economy a President really has.
Aug 21, 2008
So much to respond to...
1. Businesses rely on aggregate citizen responses on the economy more than economists because it (consumer confidence) is a leading economic indicator. It is this way for two reasons: 1) if citizens are confident in the economy they will buy more and thus the economy will expand and 2)citizens have unique information about their !$%*!$%*!$%*! that aggregates well. So if citizens are good enough for businesses, you shouldn't dismiss them so quickly.

2. However, that only shows that citizens are good at predicting the future state of the economy, not what the best policies are. Your survey is always something I wanted to do (when I ran a survey research lab). It gets to the heart of a more interesting question to me "how do you know a good (or bad) economy when you see it?" My premise is that there are so many indicators to choose from the media will just report whatever they want.

Looking forward to the results. I hope you post the detailed report online.
Aug 21, 2008

Now that you are armed with information you believe to be both accurate and relevant, will you vote? Your arguments against voting have primarily been due to the lack of information that would allow you to choose in a meaningful way.

The tone of this post implies that you feel that you have accurate information that matters to you. These two sentences in particular make me think you should vote: "I woke up this morning with the strange feeling that I might own the most important information in the world." and "But if you ignore the opinions of 500 economists you are either a well-informed genius who needs no advice, or an idiot who doesn't realize it would be helpful." So, if you still don't vote, you'll need to choose which one of those two sides you belong to. Since you are the one who commissioned the study, I'd think it would be the latter.

Also, since you state "This isn't a good time in history to be making random decisions," I was hoping you could point out for us a good time to make random decisions, preferably in advance so we can all enjoy the ensuing chaotic results.

[If the information is useful, as I hope and expect, I will vote. -- Scott]
Aug 21, 2008
"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want [for] bread."

~ Thomas Jefferson
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