Five issues economists (mostly) agreed on in 2013 (and one that stumped them)

From: Blog

The IGM Economic Experts Panel published 24 polls on important public policy issues this year. All of the returns reflected at least some dissent, but in these five instances, most of the experts agreed.

  1.          Berkeley’s Carl Shapiro said it best: “Diversification rocks!” Only one panelist (Stanford’s Liran Einav) disagreed with the “diversify, diversify, diversify” mantra. The rest concurred that, absent inside information, an equity investor can expect to do better with a well-diversified, low-cost index fund than with a select few stocks.

  2.          Employers can “nudge” their employees into better savings habits with payroll-based savings plans, the panelists agreed. “Finally, a question which I am qualified to answer,” said Chicago Booth’s Richard Thaler, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Nudge

  3.          “There is such a thing as morality, and morality is higher than economics,” said the late Robert W. Fogel of Chicago Booth. The panelists agreed, as Fogel’s work with Stanley Engerman argued, that slavery in the US was eradicated because of social and political events, not because it was an unprofitable institution for slaveholders.

  4.          “OBVIOUSly,” said Chicago Booth’s Austan Goolsbee, of the proposition that we’d all be better off without the “debt ceiling.” Chicago Booth’s Luigi Zingales was the lone panelist to disagree: “It can also lead to better potential outcomes,” he said. The panelists also mostly agreed that it would be disastrous for the US to default on its debt.

  5.          The US has an opportunity to increase average incomes by investing in infrastructure, the panelists agreed. “Borrowing at negative interest rates and high unemployment rates to stop bridges from collapsing is as close as we get to a no-brainer,” said Thaler. 

There is one issue that this distinguished group of economists couldn’t make heads or tails of: your internet bill. More than half of the panelists were either uncertain (meaning they saw the existing evidence as ambiguous) or had no opinion (meaning they felt unqualified to vote) on the issue of net neutrality. In 2014 they may have a chance to see how a less-neutral internet works in practice, depending on how a US District Court rules on Verizon v. the FCC.

Finally, in case you missed it, 10 new economic experts joined the panel in November. They answered a sampling of previous polls, which can be found on their individual voting history pages.

—Chelsea Vail