Should-Read: Chris Dillow: Economists in public

Should-Read: Good advice from Chris Dillow about how economists can try to avoid degrading the quality of the discussion in the public sphere: Chris Dillow: Stumbling and Mumbling: Economists in public: “There was a debate on Twitter this morning about how economists can better engage with the public….

…Our efforts to do so have not been wholly futile. Granted, economists’ influence on the debate about Brexit and austerity hasn’t been as great as we would like. But on the other hand, Tim Harford and Steve Levitt have gotten a wide public audience–one perhaps more deservedly so than the other, And my attempts to bring proper economics to the albeit niche readership of the Investors Chronicle have not been met with complete derision…. It is possible for economists to gain some influence. What follows are some suggestions as to how or when this can be done:

First, economists cannot hope to challenge beliefs that are part of people’s self-identity. If you tell someone “economics says you’re a twat” you’ll not get a sympathetic hearing even if you are bang right. This helps explain the success of Freakonomics and the failure over Brexit: nobody had strong prior beliefs about whether Sumo wrestlers cheat, but they did about the EU. In this context, I have it easy at the IC. People might not want to hear they are fools but they do want to know ways of making money, or at least to stop losing it egregiously. I can therefore try to be Keynes’ dentist, offering humble but competent advice without telling them they are fools. Secondly, try to appeal to facts rather than the consensus…

February 3, 2018


Brad DeLong
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