Sunday, July 13, 2008

What if the Candidates Pandered to Economists?

Greg Manwkiw writing in the New York Times:
In the months to come, John McCain and Barack Obama will be vying for the support of various voting blocs. It is safe to say, however, that one group won’t get much attention: economists.

The American Economic Association represents only a small fraction of 1 percent of the electorate. In every election season, we economists expect to be largely ignored, and, unlike many of our other forecasts, that one often turns out to be right.

But suppose it were otherwise. Imagine that those running for office tailored their economic positions to attract the experts in the field. What would it take to put the nation’s economists solidly behind a candidate?

On many issues, from universal health insurance to increased taxes on the rich, economists do not speak with a single voice. But on some issues we do. Here is an eight-plank platform designed to attract a majority of economists. It is based on discussions I have had with my colleagues — call them focus groups, if you’d like — and polls of my profession:

1) Support free trade
2) Oppose farm subsidies
3) Leave oil companies and speculators alone
4) Tax the use of energy
5) Raise the retirement age
6) Invite more skilled immigrants
7) Liberalize drug policy
8) Raise funds for economic research
Follow the link for further description on each point.

Tyler Cowen responds:
I don't disagree that there is a consensus on retirement age but it was news to me to read that. My informal impression had been that many economists on the left felt this would place undue burdens on people with physically demanding jobs. And personally I would sooner subsidize hard science than economics; I don't think we've earned our keep lately!

Or maybe Greg is just saying that it would win economists' votes. Like Alex, I wonder if economists vote on a more rational basis than do other people. If I meet a French economist, I suppose that his views are more shaped by his being a Frenchman than by his being an economist. I'd like to see a poll of Canadian economists on health care reform.

Unfortunately, I agree with Cowen about economic research but agree with Mankiw on points 1 through 7. I also agree that the politicians aren't listening much to any of the economists on this. Rather than blaming the politicians for this, I wonder if the problem has more to do with economists doing a poor job at trying to make themselves heard?

1 comment:

thinking said...

It get's even worse. You've actually had one candidate, McCain, and his surrogates, openly declare that the unanimous opinion of economic experts does not matter. They did this when responding to criticism of their gas tax repeal gimmick.

Then you also have the fact McCain has promised to balance the budget in 4 years, without even offering any numbers. In the past politicians might make these promises but at least offer up bogus numbers. In this case McCain did not even try to do that.

His claim has been dismissed as laughable.

Obama may have his flaws, but like Bill Clinton, at least he has a very active and intelligent mind and believes in using it.

Quite frankly, McCain seems to be an absolute moron when it comes to understanding the issues.