Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dilbert Survey of Economists

Scott Adams, the creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, commissioned a survey of over 500 economists to give people more information about how both candidates fare on economic issues. While it hardly offers a clear "winner," it did offer some interesting conclusions. (The full press release can be found at http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/dilbert_survey_of_economists/.)

Highlights:
  • Overall, 59% of the economists say Obama would be best for the economy long term, with 31% picking McCain, and 8% saying there would be no difference.
  • When asked to rank the most important economic issues, the top 10 were: education, health care, international trade, energy, encouraging technology/innovation, wars and homeland security, mortgage/housing crisis, social security, environmental policy, and reducing the deficit.
  • Overall, the economists in the survey favor Obama on 9 of the top 13 issues, McCain on 1 (international trade), and feel that there will be no difference on 2. (On the issue of the mortgage/housing crisis, Obama and "no difference" both came in at 41%, with McCain scoring only 18%.)
48% of the economists surveyed were Democrats, 27% Independents, and only 17% Republicans. This gives many people pause about the objectivity of the results. However, as Adams puts it in a follow up blog:
Economists crossed party lines on the questions of International Trade, Environmental Policy, Immigration, Reducing Waste in Government, and Reducing the Deficit. I didn't include a question about a gas tax holiday, because the idea has already expired, but economists crossed party lines on that issue too. That suggests a degree of objectivity on an issue level. The crossover issues, plus the rankings, are important no matter who gets elected. That will tell you if your president has the right priorities.
Overall, with the uncertain bias of party affiliation, there can be no absolute "winner" from this survey. We'll simply never know how much party loyalty played into the results. But as Adams mentions, we can still learn a few things about the candidates and the importance of these issues (even if we simply determine that, as a result of reading this survey, economics should be valued more or less in our evaluation of the candidates).

Scott Adams has a bit of additional commentary in an opinion piece he wrote for CNN.com, and a blog post he wrote today offers even more helpful insight. I know it's a lot of extra reading, but it goes pretty quickly (Adams is a good writer) and that last link in particular offers a lot of food for thought.

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