Economists Agree

It’s interesting to note how professional academics fail to align with popular opinion. Professionals shouldn’t be assumed to be always right–that’s a species of authority worship–but they do deserve to be taken seriously. They are the experts in their fields. As various conservatives constantly reminds us, academics tend to be liberal. The neo-cons think that’s evidence of a liberal bias in higher education. Maybe it’s evidence that liberal positions are better supported by fact and reason.

Economics is a little different. Here’s a list, from Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, of matters about which economists tend to agree. It is generally not supportive of leftist positions. Most economists agree minimum wage increases unemployment and rent ceilings reduce the quality of housing. The experts generally support free-markets and free-trade.

  1. A ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. (93%)
  2. Tariffs and import quotas usually reduce general economic welfare. (93%)
  3. Flexible and floating exchange rates offer an effective international monetary arrangement. (90%)
  4. Fiscal policy (e.g., tax cut and/or government expenditure increase) has a significant stimulative impact on a less than fully employed economy. (90%)
  5. The United States should not restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries. (90%)
  6. The United States should eliminate agricultural subsidies. (85%)
  7. Local and state governments should eliminate subsidies to professional sports franchises. (85%)
  8. If the federal budget is to be balanced, it should be done over the business cycle rather than yearly. (85%)
  9. The gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged. (85%)
  10. Cash payments increase the welfare of recipients to a greater degree than do transfers-in-kind of equal cash value. (84%)
  11. A large federal budget deficit has an adverse effect on the economy. (83%)
  12. A minimum wage increases unemployment among young and unskilled workers. (79%)
  13. The government should restructure the welfare system along the lines of a “negative income tax.” (79%)
  14. Effluent taxes and marketable pollution permits represent a better approach to pollution control than imposition of pollution ceilings. (78%)

There are a few things I question. Items #10 and #13 suggest we should replace food stamps and other non-cash assistance with cash. How would we prevent the cash from being spent on, say, booze and lottery tickets? Or fertility treatment by a woman who already has six kids and no job? Some of the items are vaguely moralistic, employing the word “should” rather specifying a likely result we can evaluate for ourselves.

Also notable is what’s missing. Apparently, there’s no consensus regarding health care. Overall, it’s an interesting list.


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