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07:35 PM on 12/02/14 
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David87
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I took macro twice because the first time I took it my head wasn't in school at all, and the first professor was a hardcore right winger now I that I think about the things he was saying/teaching. That was before I really knew too much about politics and economics though, so I didn't really pick up on it at the time.
07:42 PM on 12/02/14 
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Chris M.
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Fortunate to have never had a prof. with a big right-wing bias in all the econ classes I took. The prof. I took intro micro and macro with was actually extremely left-leaning and ran for provincial government as a member of the NDP.
08:01 PM on 12/02/14 
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JoshSalas
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That's actually a misconception. Economists are on average more right-wing than the average academic, but are more left-wing than the average person. Most economists actually lean towards the political left.
I don't think that it is. Many left-wing people still hold some right-ish economic views; for instance, that growth is an important goal, that we should aim to keep deficits low, that money—and not resources—somehow constrains governments, that there is a "natural" rate of unemployment, that market failures can usually be solved with market solutions, that free trade deals are good and that "protectionism" is bad. More generally, there is a tendency, at least among academics and pundits, to talk about "the economy" as if it is some abstract, mathematical entity separate from the rest of society. This view facilitates and justifies right-ish economic policies, like austerity, exporting manufacturing to Bangladesh so we can have $3 t-shirts, etc.

Maybe you see things differently (and I very well could be wrong), but it seems to me that the right is winning the battle over economic ideology.
08:12 PM on 12/02/14 
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JoshSalas
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The only time I can recall having an obviously left-wing economics professor was when I took environmental economics. The prof was from U of California, Berkeley (which I've heard described, in no uncertain terms, as a "lefty cesspool"); the course was basically using economic analysis to prove that we should cut carbon emissions drastically and also save the polar bears.
09:14 PM on 12/02/14 
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dirty sanchez
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I remember last year in my Micro class, there were about 400 students in that particular section and at the end of the class, an A was a 65, a B was a 55, C a 45 and so on. I ended up with an 86% and an A. The class was crazy hard (the professor made it hard to weed out econ majors).
05:15 AM on 12/03/14 
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Zeran
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I don't think that it is. Many left-wing people still hold some right-ish economic views; for instance, that growth is an important goal, that we should aim to keep deficits low, that money—and not resources—somehow constrains governments, that there is a "natural" rate of unemployment, that market failures can usually be solved with market solutions, that free trade deals are good and that "protectionism" is bad. More generally, there is a tendency, at least among academics and pundits, to talk about "the economy" as if it is some abstract, mathematical entity separate from the rest of society. This view facilitates and justifies right-ish economic policies, like austerity, exporting manufacturing to Bangladesh so we can have $3 t-shirts, etc.

Maybe you see things differently (and I very well could be wrong), but it seems to me that the right is winning the battle over economic ideology.
this sounds about right to me.
09:33 PM on 12/03/14 
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Merve
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My micro/macro courses used Hubbard's book. Wasn't he a Republican economic advisor? I recall picking up on his bias in the edition I used pretty often.
Yeah, there's one section where the authors talk about why the US has a higher per capita GDP than other developed countries, but fail to mention its vastly higher inequality compared to other developed countries. It's one of the things that's technically true but very misleading.

I don't think that it is. Many left-wing people still hold some right-ish economic views; for instance, that growth is an important goal, that we should aim to keep deficits low, that money—and not resources—somehow constrains governments, that there is a "natural" rate of unemployment, that market failures can usually be solved with market solutions, that free trade deals are good and that "protectionism" is bad. More generally, there is a tendency, at least among academics and pundits, to talk about "the economy" as if it is some abstract, mathematical entity separate from the rest of society. This view facilitates and justifies right-ish economic policies, like austerity, exporting manufacturing to Bangladesh so we can have $3 t-shirts, etc.

Maybe you see things differently (and I very well could be wrong), but it seems to me that the right is winning the battle over economic ideology.
There's actually some research on this, and political leanings break down by sub-field in the way you'd expect. Financial economists are on the right end of the spectrum. Macroeconomists are fairly centrist. Applied microeconomists lean hard to the left. So fiscal and monetary policy - the stuff you hear about in the news - tends to come from more of a centrist to right-wing perspective, whereas advice on social programs - the domain of policy wonks - comes from the left.

Of course, implementation is a different story, being constrained by politics. Politicians - especially in the States - lean far more to the right than academics. The end result is a lot of "best-case" policy within pretty conservative constraints. See, for example, the PPACA, a veritable Frankenstein's monster of legislation that exists only because of the political situation in Washington, when a public system (with small fees or copayments) is probably what most economists would endorse.

Bottom line: the average economist is right-wing compared to the average academic, but slightly left-wing compared to the average person.

If you don't mind my asking, are you at a freshwater or a saltwater school? That might explain our differing perspectives.
07:46 AM on 12/04/14 
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JoshSalas
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If you don't mind my asking, are you at a freshwater or a saltwater school? That might explain our differing perspectives.
I've never heard that distinction before, haha. Upon looking it up though, I'm not sure that my school has a defined identity. If I think just about the profs I had for macro theory courses, then I'd say freshwater—but it's not so clear when I think of the department as a whole.
03:42 PM on 12/04/14 
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Nuns On A Bus
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I don't think that it is. Many left-wing people still hold some right-ish economic views; for instance, that growth is an important goal, that we should aim to keep deficits low, that money—and not resources—somehow constrains governments, that there is a "natural" rate of unemployment, that market failures can usually be solved with market solutions, that free trade deals are good and that "protectionism" is bad. More generally, there is a tendency, at least among academics and pundits, to talk about "the economy" as if it is some abstract, mathematical entity separate from the rest of society. This view facilitates and justifies right-ish economic policies, like austerity, exporting manufacturing to Bangladesh so we can have $3 t-shirts, etc.

Maybe you see things differently (and I very well could be wrong), but it seems to me that the right is winning the battle over economic ideology.
What do you mean by the bolded?
05:01 PM on 12/04/14 
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JoshSalas
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I mean that you hear a lot of "GDP went up" or "we're going to balance the budget" or "this free trade agreement reduce barriers and improve efficiency", where it is implicit that those things are desirable. While those things may be generally good, it is far from obvious that they are desirable in every context. What should be debated is what economic policies/economic conditions imply for people and societies, not what they imply for theories/accounting identities (like GDP or debt).

To give a current and hopefully concrete example: All of the major news outlets in Canada would have you believe that the present state of persistently low oil prices is "disastrous" for Canada, because it is bad for tar sands business and subsequently for the Canadian dollar, for government revenue, for debt, and so on. As if those mathematical, more or less human-free concepts are all that matter. Many environmentalists would love to see Alberta go bankrupt, and they would have a case. Other prudent observers might say that this is the perfect opportunity for Canada to reverse the trend of putting more and more of their economic eggs into one precarious basket (oil exports). Progressives might take this as an opportunity to attack Harper's pro-oil agenda, and they would be right to do so, in my opinion. And then, of course, many Canadians are just happy to have relatively cheap gasoline for a change. It's not all bad, in reality.
05:22 PM on 12/04/14 
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Merve
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I mean that you hear a lot of "GDP went up" or "we're going to balance the budget" or "this free trade agreement reduce barriers and improve efficiency", where it is implicit that those things are desirable. While those things may be generally good, it is far from obvious that they are desirable in every context. What should be debated is what economic policies/economic conditions imply for people and societies, not what they imply for theories/accounting identities (like GDP or debt).

In that kind of analysis, there's the underlying assumption that GDP is a reasonable proxy for happiness, which it isn't, of course, since GDP can't capture distributional concerns. In fact, since GDP doesn't account for things like environmental costs or the erosion of social capital, it's a pretty lousy measure of happiness.

That's not to denigrate the concept of "growth" entirely -- certainly, growth has been a boon for Southeast Asia and is currently working its magic in much of Sub-Saharan Africa -- but GDP shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of macroeconomic analysis.

Unfortunately, a distributional normative analysis requires one to assume some sort of social welfare function, which can get complicated, and the analysis is highly sensitive to specifications thereof. I can't help but wonder how our public policy would be affected if we adopted more of a Rawlsian perspective than the more utilitarian one we have now.

I'm not opposed to mathematical formalism in economics. Math helps us formalize arguments. But the assumptions underlying that math aren't completely innocuous. Policy analysts would do well to remember that.
05:26 PM on 12/04/14 
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Nuns On A Bus
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I mean that you hear a lot of "GDP went up" or "we're going to balance the budget" or "this free trade agreement reduce barriers and improve efficiency", where it is implicit that those things are desirable. While those things may be generally good, it is far from obvious that they are desirable in every context. What should be debated is what economic policies/economic conditions imply for people and societies, not what they imply for theories/accounting identities (like GDP or debt).

To give a current and hopefully concrete example: All of the major news outlets in Canada would have you believe that the present state of persistently low oil prices is "disastrous" for Canada, because it is bad for tar sands business and subsequently for the Canadian dollar, for government revenue, for debt, and so on. As if those mathematical, more or less human-free concepts are all that matter. Many environmentalists would love to see Alberta go bankrupt, and they would have a case. Other prudent observers might say that this is the perfect opportunity for Canada to reverse the trend of putting more and more of their economic eggs into one precarious basket (oil exports). Progressives might take this as an opportunity to attack Harper's pro-oil agenda, and they would be right to do so, in my opinion. And then, of course, many Canadians are just happy to have relatively cheap gasoline for a change. It's not all bad, in reality.
So you're more mad about the media narrative on economic issues than with the economics themselves? A lower price of oil is disastrous for an economy built on oil, that isn't really controversial or a value judgment of any kind.

Most of what you're talking about seem more to me to be political positions, rather than economic ones. On the other hand, putting all your economic eggs into a basket is definitely something discussed at length by economists all the time, so they have that going for them.
06:01 PM on 12/04/14 
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JoshSalas
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So you're more mad about the media narrative on economic issues than with the economics themselves? A lower price of oil is disastrous for an economy built on oil, that isn't really controversial or a value judgment of any kind.

Most of what you're talking about seem more to me to be political positions, rather than economic ones. On the other hand, putting all your economic eggs into a basket is definitely something discussed at length by economists all the time, so they have that going for them.
How are you defining the economy? Your point about me talking more about politics than economics is well taken, but it leaves me somewhat confused. I think I understand how something can be "bad" for the economy, yet somehow "good" or at least "not bad" for society, but I'm not sure why you would want to define the economy in that way. If "economic wellbeing" and actual wellbeing aren't moving in the same direction, then why care about the former?
11:26 PM on 12/04/14 
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Nuns On A Bus
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How are you defining the economy? Your point about me talking more about politics than economics is well taken, but it leaves me somewhat confused. I think I understand how something can be "bad" for the economy, yet somehow "good" or at least "not bad" for society, but I'm not sure why you would want to define the economy in that way. If "economic wellbeing" and actual wellbeing aren't moving in the same direction, then why care about the former?
Wellbeing in a general sense can be measured by a number of factors, of which economic factors only play a part. You could have someone who lives in an area with income growth that is growing at the expense of civil liberties or environmental quality who would be worse off, which I think is what you're getting at, no? Talking about GDP growth in an abstract sense without talking about externalities? I could be wrong, I'm still not quite sure what you mean. But I think at that point it isn't so much an economic analysis as it is a measure of a number of indicators from across the social sciences, and is broader than anything economics can really answer.
02:12 AM on 12/05/14 
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Merve
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Wellbeing in a general sense can be measured by a number of factors, of which economic factors only play a part. You could have someone who lives in an area with income growth that is growing at the expense of civil liberties or environmental quality who would be worse off, which I think is what you're getting at, no? Talking about GDP growth in an abstract sense without talking about externalities? I could be wrong, I'm still not quite sure what you mean. But I think at that point it isn't so much an economic analysis as it is a measure of a number of indicators from across the social sciences, and is broader than anything economics can really answer.

I disagree. To the extent that normative economic analysis is the application of optimization theory to human issues, there's no reason that the maximand must be GDP.* In principle, there's nothing stopping economists from writing down models that incorporate environmental quality or measures of civil liberties.

That being said, you've touched on the important point that economists can and should work more often with scientists from other disciplines - environmental scientists, geographers, sociologists, and even linguists - and draw on their expertise. There's a tendency within the profession to shun qualitative analysis, and I think it's ultimately detrimental both to the field itself and its ability to do good in society.

*Okay, that's being a little loose with things. Generally, in macroeconomic models, you have firms maximizing profits and consumers maximizing utility, and then you put them together and solve for a competitive equilibrium. Maximizing GDP is more of a social planner's problem.



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