Sunday, August 7, 2016

Expert economists in the political battle

There has been a bit of soul searching but not much self-criticism among economists about the defeat of expert economic opinion in the Brexit referendum. British voters narrowly endorsed leaving the EU in spite the overwhelming majority of economists loudly saying that it was a mistake. Actually, it contrasts with what happened in the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, where the NO vote clearly won the economic debate and actually that was decisive on the final vote. This time, perhaps without the expert economic opinion the Leave vote would have won by more. It is relevant that at the eyes of the expert community and at the eyes of almost 49% of the voters (and the majority of voters in London, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the British youth), the economic argument was won by the Remain camp. Nevertheless, it is just fine that experts think about how to influence public opinion better. After all, expert advice is just one input in the factors considered by voters. Other inputs are values, emotions or impulses. John Van Reenen, Jean Pisani-Ferry and Antonio Fatas have all good pieces about all this. One just hopes that next time people like them are more effective players. It must also be admitted that it is not that frequent that almost all economists are at the same side of an argument. I finish with some of the comments by Pisani-Ferry: "As Gerald Bronner, a French sociologist, has convincingly shown, education neither increases trust in science nor diminishes the attraction of beliefs or theories that scientists regard as utter nonsense. On the contrary, more educated citizens often resent being told by experts what science regards as truth. Having had access to knowledge, they feel empowered enough to criticize the cognoscenti and develop views of their own. Climate change – which the scientific community overwhelmingly regards it as a major threat – is a case in point. According to a 2015 Pew Research survey, the three countries where concern is the weakest are the US, Australia, and Canada, whereas the three in which it is the strongest are Brazil, Peru, and Burkina Faso. Yet average years of schooling are 12.5 for the first group and six for the second. Evidently, education alone is not the reason for this difference in perception."

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