Bryan Caplan  

Anti-Economist Bias Yes, Conservative Bias No

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Media Matters reports that almost none of the economic "experts" pontificating on Obama's economic plan are actually economists:

Media Matters purposefully used a broad definition of "economist" to be inclusive, coding as an economist any guest who has a master's degree or doctorate in economics or who has served as an economics professor at a university or college, as best as we could determine. (All current members of Congress were coded as non-economists.)

On cable news channels, economists made a total of 18 guest appearances out of a total of 399 guest appearances in broadcasts that included guest discussions of the stimulus.
Unless I am totally misreading this piece, its theme is that real experts are being overshadowed by shallow pundits.  So far, so good. 

But the report then strangely concludes with the claim that "As Media Matters has documented, media coverage of the [Obama] plan has been marred by conservative falsehoods and misinformation."  Not only does this seem like a gratuitous aside; but if you scroll down Media Matters' short list of bona fide economists in the news, you'll find quite a few Obama plan critics, including Stephen Moore, Amity Shlaes, Thomas Sowell, and Arthur Laffer. 

Sure, it would be great if more real economists were in the public eye.  The reason we're having a public debate on the Obama plan, though, is not that economic illiterates are drowning out a broad consensus of economists.  If you needed an advanced degree in econ to get on the air, there'd still be plenty of argument.


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

Notice also that Media Matters counts Ben Stein and Robert Reich as economists. I don't think they meet even Media Matters's inclusive definition. Both are lawyers. Ben's dad was an economist and he probably learned a lot from him. But that doesn't make him an economist. When you see him talk or read his work, you don't get the idea that he's an economist. Reich writes on economic matters but, again, that doesn't make Reich an economist.

besttrousers writes:

Nor is Amity Shlaes an economist. Reich has a mater's degree in econ, though.

Tom writes:

"Reich has a mater's degree in econ, though."

I don't think this is correct. I have only found reference to him studying PPE at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and no reference of him actually receiving a degree in PPE from Oxford. In addition, I have found no information stating that Reich received a Master's degree in economics.


Greg Ransom writes:

The problem is the _economists_ who are economic illiterates.

Read any macroeconomists Intro to Macroeconomics textbook, and see what they write about "classical economics" and what they present as "Keynesian economics" -- and if you can't spot the massive economic illiteracy, I'd suggest you yourself are an economic illiterate.

Marcus writes:

"Notice also that Media Matters counts Ben Stein [as an economist]"

Ah! But! He played one in a movie. Does that count?

David R. Henderson writes:

Dear Besttrousers,
Good point about Amity. I overlooked that because when I talk to her, I feel as if I'm talking to an economist, in a way that I don't with, say, Robert Reich.
Also, Niall Ferguson doesn't appear to fit the Media Matters criteria.
Best,
David

David writes:

Ben Stein graduated from Columbia in economics. So I guess that makes him an economist.

He was a lawyer for the federal trade commission, which is heavily involved in economics and trade.

David writes:

The Democrats accuse Republicans of being anti-intellectual. But the reality is that Democrats ignore the overwhelming evidence of free trade. They ignore how the Columbia trade deal will create jobs.

There is a consensus in free trade. It ranged from Paul Krugman and other liberal economists have defended free trade.

Alice Finkel writes:

This "stimulus" plan was pushed through so quickly that most economists did not have enough time to breath out before it passed, much less comment.

Obama is riding a wave of triumphalism and using its momentum to make significant alterations to the structure of government, society, and foreign policy.

The butcher's bill for all of this will be high.

David R. Henderson writes:

David,
I think you mean that Ben got an undergrad degree in economics. That doesn't fit Media Matters' self-proclaimed criteria.
When Ben was at the FTC, in 1973, he was working on misleading advertising. I remember a story his girl friend told me at the time about this case he had involving dog food. (I worked for his father that summer in the White House.)
Best,
David

Lance writes:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has an undergraduate degree in economics.

libfree writes:

I still remember Reich shouting down someone when talking about law, telling them that since they weren't a lawyer they should shut up. I've been waiting for PHD in Econ to do that to Reich ever since. That said, I think its a mistake to take formal education in econ as the end all, be all of whether you can engage in economics debates. Why don't we just limit the debate to PHD's or Nobel Prize winners (econ only). I think that it would be absurd, what we should want is disclosure.

Larry Peoples, Sr. writes:

The new definition of "Economist" seems to be anyone on the wrong side of the following statement. Today it means basically someone who is a political pundit:

"Political economists are in general quite suspicious of governmental intervention. They see in it inconveniences of all kinds—a diminution of individual liberty, energy, prudence, and experience, which constitute the most precious resources of any society. Hence, it often happens that they oppose this intervention."

Frédéric Bastiat

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