Here is a debate I've been having with my brother-in-law over the past few weeks. I'd like to hear some thoughts on it:
My stance is that economics is extraordinarily complicated. I can pretty quickly come up with a list of well-pedigreed experts and Nobel prize winners on either side of any economic issue. The list of economists who think that the stimulus saved the US economy from depression is long, but so is the list of economists who think that FDR's efforts prolonged and deepened a recession.
I am a criminal lawyer, not an economist. I took two classes (Macro and Micro) in Economics in college. I listen to podcasts such as Russ Robert's EconTalk. I've read a few books such as Paul Krugman's The Return of Depression Economics, and I read the occasional posting on sites like this. However, the more I read, the more I'm convinced that I don't have the energy or the time to really delve into the complexities of these issues to the point where I could have what I would consider an informed, intelligent opinion.
My brother-in-law, in contrast, thinks that economics can be reduced to extremely simple principles that are readily understood by anyone realistic enough to face facts: 1) if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for years, instead of just giving him a fish 2) deficit spending will destroy our children's futures and 3) taxing rich people destroys jobs and sends investments overseas.
I've never argued that he is wrong, necessarily, only that the data are inconclusive and that people who are much more knowledgeable than either of us look at the same data and interpret it in completely different ways. He claims that there is no data whatsoever to support Keynesian economics and seems to feel that all progressive economists and academics who support Keynesian economics are willfully deluding themselves and others because they put principles such as equality over the efficacy of proven economic supply-side principles. He frequently sends me posts and charts from the Cato institute and tells me that progressive economists have no corresponding data to refute their positions.
So my questions:
1) Most people across the country have deeply held opinions regarding the economy. Are they entitled to those opinions?
2) Is it possible for laypersons to understand the economy sufficiently to have an informed opinion?
3) Is there a good one-stop-shop where I can find hard data to support progressive economic policies?