This is a tough time for experts. Empowered by the Internet and embittered by the sour economy, many people doubt the wisdom of expert elites. Journalism sometimes casts further doubt by seeking polarized positions that can draw an attention-grabbing debate, or by taking refuge in he-said-she-said accounts to avoid the harder job of figuring out who’s right.
Now one tribe of specialists – economists – is striking back. Concerned that the great unwashed have come to see all economic proposals as being equally valid, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has led an effort to figure out what economists agree on, where they diverge and how certain they are about their views.
To do that, the Booth school called on reputable economists to join its panel of experts. Each week, the panelists are asked whether they agree or disagree with a particular economic idea.
“Among practicing economists, it is understood that the media and the political process paints economists as more divided than they are,” explained Anil K. Kashyap, a professor of economics and finance at the University of Chicago and a leader of the project. “It is more sensational and maybe makes for better reading to have point-counterpoint. It seemed reasonable to provide some context. There’s a lot more settled issues than most people have a sense of.”
As an example, Kashyap cited the gold standard, the monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of gold.