Professional consensus of economics

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The professional consensus of economics refers to the phenomenon of convergence of views of economists on issues that are contentious among noneconomists. The convergence of views happens mainly in microeconomics; in macroeconomics professional opinion can be divided.[1][2][3][4]Template:Rp


In 1979, James R. Kearl, Clayne L. Pope, Gordon C. Whiting, and Larry T. Wimmer published "A Confusion of Economists?"[5]Template:Rp The paper surveyed economists to see to what extent they agree on microeconomic, macroeconomic, positive, and normative statements, and found consensus on microeconomic issues.[4]Template:Rp

Writing in 1992, the Pitzer College economist Linus Yamane said that "the most common complaint" of economists by noneconomists is that they "never agree", but then pointed out that "[on] many issues economists are quite unanimous in their opinion". Nevertheless, Yamane argued that this consensus is ignored and that "politics always dominates economics".[6]

In 1993, economist David R. Henderson noted in the preface to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics the popular perception that "economists never agree", but countered by saying "[while] economists disagree on many matters, they have reached virtually unanimous agreement on a multitude of others".[1]

In 2006, economist Robert Whaples surveyed 210 PhD economists from the American Economic Association (84 of whom responded) and found that economists favored free trade, expansion of competition, and so forth.[7][8]

Writing in 2007, Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern argued that "economists oppose protectionism, but otherwise there has been no sign of any preponderant support for free-market principles. Indeed, many questions that have been repeated through time have consistently shown the majority of economists to be friendly to numerous government interventions." The authors also suggest that previous surveys may overstate consensus because the questions were framed narrowly (rather than asking for an overall judgment).[5]Template:Rp

George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan wrote in 2007 that "the best survey data indicate that economists converge on a long list of unpopular positions. Compared to the general public, economists think that markets work very well, that economic interaction with foreigners makes us better off, that saving labor is a good idea, and that the economy is doing well and getting better."[9] Caplan elaborated on this in his 2007 book The Myth of the Rational Voter.[10]

Harvard University macroeconomist Greg Mankiw noted the consensus among economists in 2006[11] and again in 2009[12] on his blog.

In 2012, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt shared the Initiative on Global Markets Forum survey results available at the time (which show broad agreement among economists), and added that in his experience, "[most] economists think very much alike."[13]

In 2012, Justin Wolfers noted that there is "remarkable agreement among economists on most policy questions".[14] Wolfers noted the professional consensus again in 2014, calling it "the hidden consensus in economics".[15]

In 2013, Roger H. Gordon and Gordon B. Dahl published the paper "Views among Economists: Professional Consensus or Point-Counterpoint?" using survey results from the Initiative on Global Markets Forum through October 30, 2012.[16]Template:Rp Discussing the paper, Stony Brook University economist Noah Smith concluded that "at the elite level", economics "isn't divided into two warring ideological camps".[17]

Examples of consensus among economists

The following list presents some of the claims that have broad consensus among economists (even though they are controversial among noneconomists).

Examples of disagreement among economists in microeconomics

  • Heterodox economics schools of economic thought often have different ideas about microeconomics than mainstream economics schools of thought. Mainstream microeconomics may be defined in terms of optimization and equilibrium, following the approaches of Paul Samuelson and Hal Varian. On the other hand, heterodox economics may be labeled as falling into the nexus of institutions, history, and social structure.[23][24]

Reasons for disagreement among noneconomists

This section discusses both the reasons for disagreement among noneconomists as well as reasons for the noneconomists' impression that economists disagree when there is in fact a consensus.

Bryan Caplan has argued in The Myth of the Rational Voter that noneconomists "suffer from a handful of systematic biases that influence their beliefs".[10]

Paul Krugman has argued that noneconomist intellectuals "resist the theory of comparative advantage that underpins free trade" because it is intellectually fashionable, comparative advantage is difficult to understand, and they are averse to a mathematical understanding of the world.[10]

The Bentley University economist Scott Sumner, writing for his blog TheMoneyIllusion, has argued that noneconomists have "utter disdain" for economists' views on microeconomics because they have "made up their minds" using "common sense".[2]

A piece in The Economist notes that the public has low trust for economists and for the government to execute on policy.[25]

Noah Smith, an economist at Stony Brook University, recalls the history of economics as "a literary enterprise, advanced by philosophical treatises rather than laboratory experiments", which could lower the public's trust of economics. Further, he argues that in the case of noneconomists' opposition to the economists' consensus on free trade, noneconomists may be using a mercantilist intuition.[26]

David R. Henderson has argued that journalism tries to present both sides of an issue in a "balanced" way even when there is professional consensus, and that noneconomists might be confusing positive analysis and normative analysis (see is–ought problem).[1]

In the survey responses of Kearl et al., "[economic] journalism was described as inaccurate, biased, distorted, sensationalized, and unsophisticated".[4]Template:Rp Moreover, the public and journalists tend to focus most on issues that economists disagree on most (i.e. macroeconomic policy questions that frequently involve forecasting and normative statements).[4]Template:Rp

Justin Wolfers has argued that professional consensus "remains largely out of sight, because in a competitive political system there's always an incentive for at least some advocates to try to portray any empirical claim as deeply contested."[15]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 David R. Henderson, ed. (December 15, 2001). "Preface and Acknowledgments to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics". Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Scott Sumner (January 16, 2013). "The public wants us to be astrologers or heretics, not scientists". Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Nathan Taylor (August 4, 2013). "Economists agree on microeconomics, not macroeconomics. The public believes the opposite.". Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Kearl, J. R.; Pope, Clayne L.; Whiting, Gordon C.; Wimmer, Larry T. (1979). "A Confusion of Economists?". The American Economic Review 69 (2): 28–37. ISSN 0002-8282. JSTOR 1801612. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Klein, Daniel B.; Stern, Charlotta (2007). "Is There a Free-Market Economist in the House? The Policy Views of American Economic Association Members". American Journal of Economics and Sociology 66 (2): 309–334. Retrieved 2016-07-10. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Linus Yamane (February 1992). "Why do people make fun of economists?". Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Whaples, Robert (November 2006). "Do economists agree on anything? Yes!". The Economists' Voice 3 (9). Retrieved 2016-07-10. 
  8. "Ready, Set, Agree". The Wilson Quarterly. 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  9. Bryan Caplan (May 8, 2007). "Economists Agree?!". Britannica Blog. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Adam Ozimek (April 9, 2012). "4 Politically Controversial Issues Where All Economists Agree". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  11. Greg Mankiw (November 30, 2006). "The Consensus of Economists". Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  12. Greg Mankiw (February 14, 2009). "News Flash: Economists Agree". Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  13. by Steven D. Levitt (January 9, 2012). "If All the Economists Were Laid End to End, Would They Reach a Conclusion?". Freakonomics. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  14. by Justin Wolfers (July 25, 2012). "The Secret Consensus Among Economists". Freakonomics. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Justin Wolfers (July 29, 2014). "What Debate? Economists Agree the Stimulus Lifted the Economy". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  16. Gordon, Roger; Dahl, Gordon B (May 2013). "Views among Economists: Professional Consensus or Point-Counterpoint?". American Economic Review 103 (3): 629–635. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0002-8282. Retrieved 2016-07-10. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Noah Smith (January 6, 2013). "Is economics divided into warring ideological camps?". Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Daniel Griswold (September 18, 2009). "A Super-Majority of Economists Agree: Trade Barriers Should Go". Cato Institute. Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Roger Kerr (November 2, 2007). "Do economists agree on anything? Yes!". New Zealand Business Roundtable. 
  20. "Room with a view". The Economist. January 12, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  21. Paul Krugman (June 7, 2000). "Reckonings; A Rent Affair". The New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2016. 
  22. Coates, Dennis; Humphreys, Brad R. (September 2008). "Do economists reach a conclusion on subsidies for sports franchises, stadiums, and mega-events?". Econ Journal Watch 5 (3): 294–315. Retrieved 2016-07-10. 
  23. Lawson, T. (2005). "The nature of heterodox economics". Cambridge Journal of Economics 30 (4): 483–505. Template:Citation error. 
  24. Dow, S. C. (2000). "Prospects for the Progress in Heterodox Economics". Journal of the History of Economic Thought 22 (2): 157–170. Template:Citation error. 
  25. "Trust us". The Economist. January 11, 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2016. 
  26. Noah Smith (January 10, 2013). "Why do people think economists are charlatans?". Retrieved July 9, 2016.