The dangerous left-wing bias of economists strikes again

The left-wing bias of economists must be taken into account in public policy-making. Any suggestions to regulate the economy, spend our way out of a recession, increase the top tax rate and so on must be discounted for that well-known but little publicised political bias.

Source: Economists Aren’t As Nonpartisan As We Think | FiveThirtyEight

As is not well-known enough, Cardiff and Klein (2005) used voter registration data to rank disciplines at Californian Ivy League universities by Democrat to Republican ratios. Economics is the most conservative social science, with a Democrat to Republican ratio of a mere 2.8 to 1. This can be contrasted with sociology (44 to 1), political science (6.5 to 1) and anthropology (10.5 to 1). 40% of Americans are Democrats, 32% are independents with the balance Republicans.

Zubin Jelveh, Bruce Kogut, and Suresh Naidu confirmed that bias: that the typical economist is a moderate Democrat. They found a 60–40 liberal conservative bias

Jelveh, Kogut, and Naidu also reminded, as many have before them that economics is the most politically diverse of academic professions. Sociology is a notorious left-wing echo chamber as an example. Their most likely view of Jeremy Corbyn is he is a bit of a Tory. Oddly enough, sociologists are the first to point the finger at economists for political bias.

Jelveh, Kogut, and Naidu correlated political donations of more than $200 in the Federal Elections Commission database with the language used in 18,000 journal articles back to the 1970s.

More interestingly, they correlated political bias with the estimates of quantitative effects such as the top tax rate and its impact on labour supply and investment:

We found a (significant) correlation when we compared the ideologies of authors with the numerical results in their papers. That means that a left-leaning economist is more likely to report numerical results aligned with liberal ideology (and the same is true for right-leaning economists and conservative ideology)… liberals think the fiscal multiplier is high, meaning the government can improve economic growth by increasing spending, while conservatives believe the multiplier is close to zero or negative.

They are not suggesting a rigging of the results. Economists tend to sort into the fields that suit their ideologies:

It’s more likely that these correlations are driven by research areas and the methodologies employed by economists of differing political stripe. Economics involves both methodological and normative judgments, and it is difficult to imagine that any social science could completely erase correlations between these two… macroeconomists and financial economists are more right-leaning on average while labour economists tend to be left-leaning. Economists at business schools, no matter their specialty, lean conservative. Apparently, there is “political sorting” in the academic labour market.

Before you start writing out the indictment that economic policy and the global financial crisis is the product of a vast left-wing conspiracy within the economics profession you should remember the wise words of George Stigler.

Stigler argued that ideas about economic reform needed to wait for a market. He contended that economists exert a minor and scarcely detectable independent influence on the societies in which they live. As is well known, Stigler in the 1970s toasted Milton Friedman at a dinner in his honour by saying:

Milton, if you hadn’t been born, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

Stigler said that if Richard Cobden had spoken only Yiddish, and with a stammer, and Robert Peel had been a narrow, stupid man, England would have still have repealed the Corn Laws in the 1840s. England would still have moved towards free trade in grain as its agricultural classes declined and its manufacturing and commercial classes grew in the 1840s onwards because of the industrial revolution.

As Stigler noted, when their day comes, economists seem to be the leaders of public opinion. But when the views of economists are not so congenial to the current requirements of special interest groups, these economists are left to be the writers of letters to the editor in provincial newspapers. These days, they would run an angry blog.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim Rose
    Nov 07, 2015 @ 01:28:42

    Reblogged this on Utopia – you are standing in it! and commented:

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  2. Trackback: @NZGreens gain the most from an independent costings unit @JulieAnneGenter | Utopia - you are standing in it!

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