What 'Every Economist' Says
The expression "every economist" is one of the most widely abused in politics. In various formulations, one hears a lot of this rhetoric. You see, there's no disagreement among economists. Keynesians, Austrians, Marxists, classical economists, Rastafarians, you name it...they all say the same thing. Here are some examples (italics added):
" ... every economist that I've spoken to, George, from well-known economists on the right, conservative economists, to economists on the left and everyone in between, says the scope of this package has to be bold, it has to be big," said Joe Biden in Dec. 2008.
" ... pretty much every economist concluded that we were definitely headed for another recession. And now, a few months later, the data has suddenly come in better than expected, and now almost no one is saying we're headed for a recession," wrote Henry Blodget in Dec. 2011.
" ... they are clearly prepared to sabotage things that every economist says are in the national economic interest right now," alleged Rep. Barney Frank on MSNBC.
"If you don't lift the debt ceiling, every economists [sic] out there said the economy will tank," warned Rep. Chris van Hollen.
"It could have a huge impact on your local economies because every economist of every stripe will tell you that unemployment insurance dollars are probably the ones that are most likely to be spent," orated President Obama.
"We don't have a short-term deficit problem. You know that, he knows that, I know that, and he knows that. And every economist in the country knows that," proclaimed Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, on C-Span. (Incidentally, Trumka here is using a common rhetorical device of progressives; that is, telling you what you know. The device is a favorite of filmmaker Michael Moore. Don't let leftists tell you what you know.)
" ... derided by almost every economist" -- 2008 column by Joseph Stiglitz, an economist.
"So every economist you would talk to that is worth their salt acknowledges that without the Recovery Act we would not be continuing on the upswing," warbled Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC Chair.
If "every economist" were in fact saying the same thing, if they all thought alike and cleaved to the same theory, it would be very sobering. That's because economists haven't done such a great job of steering the world's economies away from the shoals they founder on every few years.
But economists are actually a rather contentious lot; they don't agree on much of anything. I'm not even sure they all agree on the law of supply and demand, especially given the extraordinary printing of money in the last few years. And some economists, when they're spouting their counterintuitive ideas -- such as the cure for debt is more debt -- must seem to normal folks as insane. (That's not to say that reality can't be counterintuitive; look at modern physics.)
The idea that "every economist" is in agreement is a fraud. And that brings us to the June 3 edition of ABC's Sunday morning program This Week (transcript and video), where economist Paul Krugman said of Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan:
Can I say, the Ryan plan -- and I guess this is what counts as a personal attack -- but it isn't. It's not an attack on the person; it's an attack on the plan. The plan's a fraud.
Well, we can all be relieved that Paul Krugman isn't casting aspersions: I'm not calling you an idiot; I'm merely saying that your ideas are idiotic. So don't accuse me of a "personal attack." (Now, that's not an insinuation that Paul Krugman is a "fraud" -- dishonesty shouldn't even be a criterion for assessing the mentally divergent.)
However, Mr. Krugman needs to be very, very careful about throwing "fraud" around, whatever the context. That's because he's practices a very incomplete science; a soft science; a science that doesn't seem to be doing us much good right now.
Take the Eurozone. There's a big debate between two warring camps of economists about so-called "austerity." Even if they're well-intentioned, don't some of these economists have to be frauds? These warring camps are saying the opposite things; they can't both be right, can they? (That might be too counterintuitive even for Keynesians.)
Regardless of whether all economists agree or not, the Eurozone economies have been run as if all economists did agree -- they've all been operating on massive debt. The economic turmoil we see in Europe might be an indication of the failure of that regnant economic theory.
One favorite debate ploy that progressives employ is this: everyone is already in agreement. Therefore, there is no debate. What nonsense. Disagreement is the way of the world.
In October 2010, David Boaz of the Cato Institute demonstrated in a sweet little article that "every economist" didn't agree on Obama's stimulus. And, since "every economist" doesn't say the same thing, since there is in fact a diversity of economic thought, we might have reason to hope. That is, if we trade in our old economists for new ones with different ideas.
Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.