Do you notice all the promises that the presidential campaigns have been throwing around? Bernie with stating how easily we can afford to pay for everyone’s college. Trump with his making trade better by bashing other countries; and Clinton with her comments saying that we need a universal health plan. I’m not going to get in a discussion of the merits of any of those issues – I don’t have the time or temperament at this time. BUT, what I do find of interest, and have for many years, is what an OpEd piece in this morning’s Wall Street Journal touched upon.
“The Weekend Interview” was with Russ Roberts the host of “EconTalk” a weekly podcast. Roberts is an economist by trade; so he’s no empty talking head. For anyone who has studied economics, you know that there’s as much black art as there is science. Yet, over the years, an entire priesthood (cult?) has been created by politicians to show their promises are backed by experts. And if you don’t like the answer – get a new oracle!
My concern, and has been one for years, is that people take a sound bite from their media of preference and it becomes dogma. To quote the OpEd, “All the incentives push us [economists] toward overconfidence and ignore humility — to ignore the buts and the what-ifs and the caveats. You want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal? Of course you do. So you make a bold claim. Being a skeptic gets you on page A9.”
As Roberts opined in the article, economists are people who have bias and often that will influence how they approach an issue – and why we have so many contrary opinions. He feels that economists should be more humble – and I don’ have an argument with that statement. I’ll take it a step further. Those of us who feel strongly about our side of the political argument should be the same way. Be humble. Listen to the other side. Study the FACTS – not just one person’s or side’s opinion. If we truly want to continue being a great nation, our electorate needs to be well-informed. And if we really don’t know the answer to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – say so.