Economists Must Engage with Politicians to Sway Opinion, Says Blinder

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Economists Must Engage with Politicians to Sway Opinion, Says Blinder

There is a fundamental divide between economists and politicians, according to the Princeton economist Alan Blinder. And that stubborn division, he argued, has for some time undermined the creation of sound economic policy.
“The two civilizations,” as Blinder termed them during a one-hour talk and discussion at McNally Auditorium on Sept. 17, “don’t get along very well.”


Speaking to an audience of more than 150 Gabelli School of Business students and alumni, as well as members of the Alternative Investment Roundtable and the Fixed Income Analysts Society, Blinder outlined the reasons for the fissure and suggested a few corrective measures.


Although Blinder was clear at the talk’s outset to which camp he belonged, saying that “politicians use economics in the same way that a drunk uses a lamppost, as a source of support not as a source of illumination,” he said each side could learn something from the other.


While economists rely on historical data, dispassionate analysis, and a long view to maximize society’s well-being, politicians have no such compulsions, much less obligations. Yet politicians are the ones who by and large create economic policy, most of it through tax and trade legislation and treaties, to cite two policy cornerstones which Blinder emphasized during his talk. And politicians are further enabled by a voting public that has little knowledge or patience for economic theory or policy, Blinder said.


“The main selection principle for a policy, if the selection is being done by an economist, is what is good. … In politics, it’s more typically what sounds good,” he said. “If you’re a politician, your success criteria is obvious: It’s how you do on election day.”


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