Are Non-Economists Entitled To An Opinion On the Economy?

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?

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My 2 cents.

Ok, I'll give it a shot.

1. No. Those opinions are wrong and you no more entitled to them than you are entitled to disbelieve in Maxwell's Laws in a electrical engineering project.

2. Yes, by completely ignoring all economists and looking at what historians and the historical record has to say which universally contradicts the religion of economics. Economic is not a science it is a religious apologetic for slavers. See

3. No. I believe that this the biggest problem. There are no Corporate Think Tanks on behalf of the truth that do what the Slavertarian Cato institute and other disinformation hubs preaching the Plutocrat dogma.

Truth be told I'm not interested in so-called "progressive economics" policies as I believe that they tend toward a kind of utopian vision regarding immigration and at same time are completely dystopian toward industry and technology leaning toward nonsense Luddite Malthusianism and environmental doomism which is historically a bias of Oligarchism not populism.

What we need is a center for Populist and Nationalist Economics i.e. Protectionism, Dirigism, Producerism, and doctrine of High Wages i.e. the 19th century American School.

ah, very good points

One can no more say they want to jump on the Progressive platform, or agenda, or the Democratic platform or agenda as to the GOP platform or agenda and you mention a really good reason! When it comes to labor markets, especially on immigration, facts fly out the window! We even have massive amounts of white paper spin, trying to manipulate the data and claim unlimited migration "helps the economy". That only helps corporations and businesses through increasingly cheap labor, eroding labor laws and rights. You also have so called Progressives believing examining what China is doing is somehow "racist" and "those people need our jobs". It's just absurd in terms of national economies and the winners and losers and yes the U.S. is the loser on this one. So many Progressives are really focused on a political agenda, while they have a few things adopted that make a lot of economic sense, they too won't pay attention to the theory and statistics and get upset when others do.

That said, so many special interests have labeled things "Progressive" for labeling purposes.

On the other side of this, the attack on FDR has been going on since he got into office. The biggest target is social security. FDR's policies do not cause a prolonging of the Great Depression, just as much as Smoot-Hawley did not.

Which reminds me of a Bernanke speech where there is evidence that Gold manipulation helped cause the Great Depression, which is interesting. A lot of it had to do with monetary policy, our fav. bank failures and it was a deflationary spiral which caused demand to collapse. It's a huge topic, but one thing to note is these conservatives trying to attack FDR simply because they have an agenda to destroy what is left of any social safety nets.

my response

This is a layperson's economics blog, so #2 I believe obviously one can, but I'd say at minimum, they need high school calculus, the ability to read a graph at least and the ability to self teach.

On number 1, I'd say no. The reason is having an opinion or even an economist's claim, does not make it so, not at all. They need to learn, not just regurgitate some things they picked up on Fox news, or Glenn Beck or even my writings.

On number 3, that is one of the things this site spends a lot of time on, hard data. There is no "one stop shop" to even get to the raw data, the government has a host of sites that when I write up the overview on, I always link to, and a lot of raw data isn't even tabulated, which is unfortunate.

Economics is hard and it's the dismal science to boot. Take GDP multipliers, where a lot of the theory comes from for Stimulus spending. That's a mistake. If one bothers to read Keynes, he clearly had assumptions for the theory to be valid, the biggest of which the spending must stay in that domestic economy and another which it must go into the pockets of the workers, the people, i.e. direct spending.

On tax cuts for the rich, I've written up a serious of posts which show they simply do not create jobs, so not only does the data show that statement is false, the GDP multipliers, flawed as they are, also show it's false.

One needs to look at the results, where do the rich spend their money? Well, they do not and right now we have massive investments going on....overseas.

On FDR, ya know these people are political, and the politics become obscene when you have people trying to spin with mathematics. I've seen absurd assumptions used for mathematical models, biased data, cherry-picked data, setting a host of variables to "zero" to get the result they want, which is mathematically invalid...
you name it, so these people are not Economists in my view. Economists should not spin numbers, that's politics, not economics.


Your blog on why tax cuts for the wealthy are a bad idea was EXACTLY the kind of information I have been looking for.

I guess the crux of my argument is that people like Sarah Palin and Glen Beck have made a lot of hay out of criticizing "intellectuals," portraying academics and professional economists as "elites" who pretend that these economic issues are complex merely to convince the populace that they should just trust in their leaders and do what they are told when the "truth" is that economics is really easy to understand, as long as you adhere to certain core principles (no government intereference, etc., etc.). Ironically, they make that argument to discourage the populace from doing any serious research or self-education on economic matters (which, as I am discovering is difficult and fairly tedious) and to just trust them that these principles are the right way to go.

I guess that's actually pretty similar to their standard worldview on natural law as well.

they don't really have a clue, but either does Keith Olbermann

Cable noise for the most part is just that. Even on Dylan Ratigan, who is seemingly trying to cut through the noise on economic issues, he gets on so called "experts" who spin the dialog to promote whatever agenda they are peddling. All of those shows, that's politics as well as pure propaganda media spin, it's not economics. Either is CNBC economics for that matter, but at least Bloomberg TV and a few others have real people on. CNBC would do some "debate" with some propaganda guy on, with an agenda and some other guy on with the data, as if somehow data, statistics is something up for debate? I don't think so unless one wants to 'debate' methods on cable noise.

BTW: Instapopulists are primarily for economic reports, the site is pretty much a "news" site...

but since you wrote up your piece, I'm thinking I need to put on the site a pure question, discussion, poll, quiz type of thing. Would that be useful? A section that is for pure conversations instead of being more of a article/news/quicknews type of thing?

Here is one piece, tax cuts for the rich do not generate jobs, that has some statistics. More references are always linked, so when you see a link, it's almost always a reference for further details/statistics when I write up something.

I think Glenn Beck has up charts and graphs but as I recall he usually takes some event and then misinterprets it to spin to something else.

I think when the Fed absurdly increased the money supply, that was a major Glenn Beck freak out moment. Well, it was one hell of a scary graph, but if you don't take money velocity into the picture, it's more meaningless. Then, it's really to me at least, counter intuitive to think of deflation as being a problem, but it is, it implies a collapse of demand and that's what was starting to go on when they "turned on the money printing presses", they were trying to counteract a deflationary spiral.

Like who intuitively could believe increasing taxes would spur economic growth? Not I, but it's possible under certain conditions.

The Tyranny of the Experts

The tyranny of the experts.

No personal offense intended, but economists are little different from lawyers in this regard.

Try to find an economist immune to the temptation of more money, or one willing to drop the act and communicate in clear language. Honestly schooled, a child can understand the essential truths of this social (and psychological so-called) "science."

On 12/22/08, Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times:

"By selling more to other countries and spending more of our own income on U.S.-produced goods, we could get to full employment without a boom in either consumption or investment spending."

What's changed?

The growing power of multinational money over American politics and propaganda.

This remains true: A standard of living must be supported by a standard of productivity.

Some time before economy experts and Nobel Prizes and stuff, Abraham Lincoln said:

"If we purchase a ton of steel rails from England for twenty dollars, then we have the rails and England the money. But if we buy a ton of steel rails from an American for twenty-five dollars, then America has the rails and the money both."

What multinational campaign financier would allow a U.S. President to say this today?

Thankfully, anyone, even a credentialed expert badly in need of adult supervision, can learn how to follow a money trail.

When non-economists stop expressing their opinions on the economy, we're doomed.

It's a little more

It's a little more complicated then "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."

But not so complicated you need a PHD to understand economics.

Economist do not live in the

Economist do not live in the real world... they live in theoryland and thus only interest themselves in questions and answers that make sense in theoryland. They only occasionally make sense accidental... and not very often.

However, unless you or your brother-in-law, or anyone else who proffers opinions on economic matters understand how money is created you're likely to miss the mark.

It's so simple that nearly everyone misses it... and when it's pointed out exclaim it simply can't be that simple... But it is. ALL modern money is debt. All debt entails an interest charge. Answer this question - Where's the interest come from?

Who creates money?
How does the gov get money?
Where does power reside, with the debtors or the creditors?

Answer those questions correctly and you'll know more that 99% of all economist. Follow the answers with the consequences and know why we all are so truly fooked.

people who blast economics haven't cracked a textbook

Sorry, now there is a lot of spin, B.S. and denial through numbers that goes on, but if one really digs, there are more than a few real economists who do understand the economy and get it right.

The problem is they are buried, come to light with a few papers and then are buried again by those who spew the corporate lobbyist agenda or plain don't have a clue.

Also, if you don't understand the money system, as it exists, well, this site is in part to educate people. You cannot blast something you do not understand. First, crack a few textbooks and read up on Wikipedia and so on.

Then, start seeing the power, flaws and lies but first one needs to be able to identify the truth.

Well, you have it right. The

Well, you have it right. The economists (most of them) did not see the Recession coming, and could not predict ways to counter it, and also did not see it leaving. What else are economists supposed to do? Shake hands and have a cup of coffee with it?!