Economists’ Views

I am trying to think of issues on which there is a marked difference between the views typical of economists and those of non-economists. It is certainly true that non-economists (especially social scientists other than economists) think there are typical economists’ views. These views are held by a solid majority of professors at the University of Chicago economics department (last I heard that was a sample of 15 people with only one clear exception — Lars Hansen but I last heard in 1990). However, US academic economists tend to be Democrats (more balanced than other departments but to the left of the general public).

I was motivated by an old discussion. Here are some links

So far I have been speculating wildly. Klein and Stern via Google gave me some actual information.

I cut and paste their abstract

Abstract. In Spring 2003, a survey of 1000 economists was conducted using a randomly
generated membership list from the American Economics Association. The survey contained
questions about 18 policy issues, voting behavior, and several background variables. The response was 264 (nonblank) surveys. The responses show that most economists are supporters of
safety regulations, gun control, redistribution, public schooling, and anti-discrimination laws.
They are evenly mixed on personal choice issues, military action, and the minimum wage.
Most economists oppose tighter immigration controls, government ownership of enterprise
and tariffs. In voting, the Democratic:Republican ratio is 2.5:1. These results are compared to
those of previous surveys of economists. We itemize a series of important questions raised by
these results.

My abstract of the abstract

Out of date and low respnse rate — should I google more — nahhh their results fit my priors.
“supporters of”Generally left of center or left of ultra far right.
“mixed on … the minimum wage” is well right of the median US adult, but “mixed” means there isn’t a typical economist’s view.
“oppose … government ownership of enterprises” means not ultra far left by US standards.

Oppose “tighter immigration controls” and “tariffs”. OK that’s it. I note that the majority of the general public supports immigration reform including a path to citizenship, so the best candidate for an gap between economists and the general public is on tariffs.

I considered two other candidates. One was the minimum wage. It used to be that egalitarian economists were very unenthusiastic about the minimum wage stressing their view that the earned income tax credit was a much better policy (I am thinking of three people but can only name one — Robert Waldmann). Here I think economists’ views have changed because of empirical analysis of data largely by Card and Krueger. I don’t know why the survey respondents’ views were mixed, but I think this might be an actual case of economic theory bowing to facts.

The other is rent control. I am pretty sure economists are against rent control. It didn’t appear on the survey, because it barely exists in the USA. Here I guess there isn’t a characteristic economists’ view, because the uninented effects of rent control are clear enough to have convinced non-economists.

There is a fairly broad consensus that rent control was a mistake (broad enough to include almost all Italians — but you wouldn’t believe the insane rent control they used to have).

That leaves tariffs and immigration (so Klein and Stern were ahead of me in 2003). here I see a pincer attack on nativism and protectionism. Pro-market economists oppose restrictions on trade and migration, because they are restrictions. Egalitarian economists oppose them because we believe they hurt the third world poor, that is the poorest.

However, tariffs have largely joined rent control on the ash heap of history. International negotiations on so called trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership have little to do with eliminating minor remaining barriers to trade. If, you want to know more, this is not the bear you are looking for. Read Kenneth Thomas Dan Crawford and Daniel Becker.

*yes Mark, the title is Thoma link bait.