Arnold Kling  

Economists under-represented?

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Matthew E. Kahn writes,


If economists would be such a useful addition to Congress as we remind our colleagues that there are “no free lunches” and that all actions have unintended consequences, why have we made so few inroads here? Is it supply or demand? Do voters not like us because we are loud and arrogant? Are we too gutless to stomach the long campaign? Does academic economics self select people who are “unelectable”? If there was campaign reform such that politicians debated each other on PBS, people watched the televised debates and then voted, would more economists try?

I think that a lot of what economists do is tell people what they do not want to hear. For example, they do not want to hear that when the price of gasoline goes up, the market is telling them that they should drive less. They want to hear instead that the evil oil companies have developed a sudden outbreak of greed.

Telling people what they do not want to hear and getting elected to office are two very distinct jobs.


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TRACKBACKS (6 to date)
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The author at De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum in a related article titled Mais advogados, mais rent-seeking? writes:
    Economistas são cientistas sociais pouco bem-vindos nas reuniões. Isto porque eles dizem que tudo o que se quer na vida implica em abrir mão de outras coisas. Recentemente, Arnold Kling postou a seguinte questão em seu blog: "será que mais... [Tracked on September 13, 2005 5:13 AM]
The author at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science in a related article titled Why are there so few economists in elected office? writes:
    Matthew Kahn asks, "Why are there so few economists in elected office?" (link from Arnold Kling). He states that 45% of Congressmembers are lawyers (which seems a bit much, I must say!) but only some small number of economists (Matthew... [Tracked on September 13, 2005 7:34 PM]
COMMENTS (15 to date)
Glen Smith writes:

Too often, the economist surrenders to his/her party. They simply become the guys who the party leaders go to to spray economic perfume on those policies their party wishes to support or spray economic mace on those policies their party wishes to reject regardless of the the economists analysis of the policy. Often, depending on which party will get the credit/blame for a policy, they switch their views on the same policy to fit with the party's needs.

Timothy writes:

Glen seems to have hit on what exactly happened to Paul Krugman in the last few years.

But, RE Oil: The market isn't saying "drive less" per se, but "use less gas or use less of other stuff". For us commuters in cities with bad public transit, that means drive an economy car, which I already do. And, honestly, even $2.75 a gallon isn't putting too big a squeeze on me. Do I wish it was cheaper? Yeah, but I wish my salary was the same and everything was cheaper, or that my salary was higher. If wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak.

George writes:

Underrepresented? Not on TV: Martin Sheen on The West Wing is President, and he's not just an economist — he's a Nobel laureate economist. (In case that were too believable, they also made him a Democrat.)

Dan Landau writes:

You got it exactly right. George Stigler said, “People choose the experts that say what they want to hear.” The story around Chicago was that Milton Friedman turned down many invitations to be in various presidents’ cabinets because it would require too many compromises of his economic principles.

The problem is, if people don’t want to listen to experts, how do we say they are rational?

El Presidente writes:

Telling people what they do not want to hear and getting elected to office are two very distinct jobs.

You must be my soul mate. No, that's not possible. But surely you understand the politician's (public servant's) dilemma. You would like to do something good for other people. You need to use the authority of office to do so. You have to get elected. People must approve of you. You must win their acceptance and adoration. You tell them the half of the truth they have ears to hear. You never live it down.

Of course voters are irrational in the sense that they discount expertise. That's why I prefer to look at elections as group exercises of the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem, inconsequential. In California we need look no further than the election of a rank amateur to the highest office in the state. This is reform? This is suicide by democracy (using the "d" word loosely).

I don't think it has to be this way but I think politicians get lazy, get tired, and get hungry. It's not an easy career path until you get that first big win. Maybe this is a great opportunity for all of you laissez faire types to get behind strong education policy so we can have an informed electorate. Any takers?

Robin Hanson writes:

If economists tell people what they don't want to hear, what do economists want to hear? Do economists tell other economists what they want to hear, or what they want to say?

N. writes:

That is an excellent question.

Michael H. writes:

I wonder how many economists have ever run for national office. It might be that the few who have the means to pursue public office, like Arnold Kling, choose to do other things. It is not guaranteed that if more economists ran for office, there would be more economists elected, but my guess is that the odds of more economists getting elected would increase dramatically.

eddie writes:

Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but my reaction to the news that there aren't a lot of economists in the Congress and Senate was "Well, duh!".

It's not just that, as Arnold puts it, "Telling people what they do not want to hear and getting elected to office are two very distinct jobs." Anything and getting elected to office are distinct jobs; getting elected is a job unto itself and is rather unlike any other productive human activity. Those who hold office are by and large those who have spent the bulk of their adult lives attempting to hold office or preparing to attempt to hold office.

I think the proportion of nominally pre-political vocations cited in Matthew Kahn's blog (45% law, 14% business, 10% public service, 7% education) is an example of a self-fulfiling prophecy. Why so many lawyers? Because those who aim for public office know that most of the office-holders are lawyers, and thus they decide that becoming lawyers themselves is the best path to public office.

Or perhaps I'm being overly cynical.

El Presidente writes:

Eddie,

Not overly cynical. In fact, you need to put a finer point on it. People who want to be involved in electoral politics are mostly lawyers because they are seeking position that require them to write, execute, and interpret LAWS. That's the whole kit-n-caboodle here. It's not so much a matter of networking or self-selection into a ruling group. It certainly isn't coincidental. There really is a pragmatic point behind that vocational bent.

Your point is very well taken regarding the unique nature of political careers. Right on the money. I think you'll be pleased to know that you have a politician among you who really cares about economics.

To all: would you rather have an amateur or a professional politician running the show? I bet your answer will be, "Neither, we want an economist." Tough cookies. Teach me the economics you want to see implemented and I'll see what I can do. You need me, so be nice.

By the way, if you had a broken pipe in your home would you want an amateur or a professional plumber? That should inform your perspectives on professional office seekers.

gary lammert writes:

In the next 140 year cycle, the world may have much better tools
in both understanding and structuring the integrative global macroeconomy....

East Meets West - World Equities At the Top by Two Different - but Perfect -Weekly Third Fractal Growth Paths

(Written 13 September 2005)

The weekly count for the third of three sequential major
growth fractals dating from 2003 for the Nikkei and Hong Kong indices
is 10/25/20. For the western US-Euro equities the weekly fractal
sequence of this final third fractal is 11/26-27/22. The two different
eastern and western equity indices weekly sequences conform to an
idealized x/2.5x/2x pattern and have reached their respective apogees
in very same week. While the Nikkei and some of the Euro-indices have
shown very characteristic exhaustion gaps within the past 3 trading
days matching the multi-yearly blow-off patterns of the high flying
NYSE and AMEX equities, the collective US Wilshire has not been able
to best its August 3, 2005 apex.

The underperformance of the premiere summation American Index, the
Wilshire 5000(TMWX), reflects the disproportionally negative
integrative burden on the US macroeconomy of its valuation fractal
determining elements - total quantitative personal, governmental, and
corporate debt, the latter of which has become much more expensive to
service under some behemoth's new junk bond status; unpayable private
pension funds soon to assumed by American taxpayers- of formerly
great, soon to be bankrupt, US corporations; expensive war cost which
have historically withered every prior major overextended world power,
record lack of US collective personal savings used as a base for
fractional lending, exhausted consumer discretionary spending running
up against near record energy costs; outsourced high paying jobs and
current wages not maintaining pace with inflation and debt servicing;
siren enticing and predatory unregulated lending practices leading to
asset consumption by a new group of extremely marginal buyers; rising
short term interest rates; the cresting of valuations of the US ATM -
equivalent asset, i.e., housing overvaluation; and recent massive
forward consumption of corporate profitless US automobiles akin to a
python eating its semiannual one time big pig bolus meal.

Relative to other leading world countries' above listed internal
economic parameters, the US and its protégée, the Wilshire, couldn't
exhaustion gap its way above its collective 3 August 2005 high. This
provides high probability information about the relative summation
strength of the US economy and its expected future asset valuation
activity in comparison to other world economic competitors.

From the Economic Fractalist archive on 28 July 2005:

Reverse Growth Fractal Top Patterns - Another Confirmational Indicator of
the Finale for the 147 year Second Great Fractal

'At major lower order valuations, top quantum units in individual equities
and commodities, many times complete classical inverse growth fractals. The
time units of the inverse top fractals can be in minutes, hours, or days
and usually are in a quantum sequence of either x/2.5x/2x or
x/2.5x/x,1.5x,1.6x,2.5x, the former being much more prevalent.'

A weekly reverse growth fractal of 15/37/30 weeks or x/2.5x/2x was identified
as a possibility on 28 July 2005. At the same time the possibility of a
x/2.5x/2.5x sequence was identified. This week, which ideally
completes a 15/37/37 week or ideal x/2.5x/2.5x inverse growth fractal
sequence, is in exact synchrony with the termination of a
11/26-27/ 22 of 22 averaged fractal weekly growth pattern.


Tuesday September 13 was day 26 of a 28 day ideal second fractal decay
pattern. Wednesday and Thursday, 14 and 15 September 2005 should
ideally be down days for the Wilshire ending the second decay fractal
of 28 days of a three sequence : 11/(28 of 28)/ 28 ideal daily decay fractal
pattern. An ideal next high for the third and final decay fractal would be on
day 104 of a 52/130/96(day 96 =Tuesday13 September) of a 104 day
sequence. The ideal final high of this nearly identical 1929 decay fractal
pattern would be on day 7 of a 11/28/(7 of 28 )day sequence. If the fractal
pattern identification is correct the last 28 days representing the third decay
fractal will be the major primary crash sequence equivalent to the final third
fractal of 27 days seen in the fall and Fall of 1929.

There are still lower probability possible decay fractal pathways
using a base with a range of 11-14 days. The extreme length would be
represented by a 14/35/22-35(1.6-2.5x the base)
decay fractal sequence with a maximum of a 14/35/35 day sequence. All
of bases include the 3 August 2005 Wilshire top. The second highest
probability daily base to the current high probability 11 day base
would be 13 days for a 13/33/21-33 daily decay sequence.

If the AMEX and NYSE characteristic exhaustion gap highs on
Friday 9 September remain unexceeded, a very ideal daily sequence
of 52/123/100 which when averaging, integrating, and reconfiguring the first
two fractal sequences of 52 and 123 days becomes 50 and 125 completing
an ideal 50/125/100 daily with a perfect x/2.5x/2x averaged configuration.

Gary Lammert

Glen Smith writes:

El Presidente,

One of the least trustworthy creatures is the professional economist.

Glen Smith writes:

El Presidente,

One of the least trustworthy creatures is the professional economist.

Glen Smith writes:

One of the least trustworthy creatures is the professional economist.

Jason Burns writes:

Up here in Canuckistan the opposition party leader is an economist. I voted for him, as I think an understanding of how wealth is created is key for a political leader.

Unfortunately the main television channel is ran by the government so they did a big time smear job on him at the last minute.

I like what one poster above said, if you want more economists in office you need more economists to run. Its an advantage I belief to have that economist degree next to your name as it puts greater weight behind your statements on how to 'fix' the economy.

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