How much consensus is there in economics?

Some economists believe that we should bicker less among ourselves. Instead we should devote more resources to convincing the public on matters where most economists already agree. I have mixed feelings toward this attitude. Even if more instruction would improve economic performance, I am concerned it would damage our long-run ability to track truth. Plus for me it would make economics less fun. I, for one, would not devote my life to being a missionary for the theory of free trade and comparative advantage.

That all being said, how much do economists in fact agree? Check out this paper. The authors survey 1000 economists from the AEA roster; the data cover both 1990 and 2000. Here is one result:

…there was strong agreement with the propositions that restraints on free trade reduce welfare…and that market-determined exchange rates are effective…There was also strong disagreement with the propositions that increasing globalization threatens national sovereignty in environmental and labor standards…that U.S. trade deficits are a result of nontariff barriers…and that the increasing inequality in the U.S. distribution of income is caused by the pressures of a global economy.

What else do we have?

Macroeconomic propositions usually met with “moderate” to “substantial” consensus, but never “strong” consensus (the paper defines these terms more rigorously). And over the last ten years the consensus on macroeconomics has lessened (this result runs counter to my intuitions; I think there is now fairly broad consensus on something between loose price level targeting to mild inflation. Of course that is just monetary policy, not all of macro.) Economists have moved slightly closer to some supply side ideas but are more skeptical about the macro stimulus properties of fiscal policy.

Pollution taxes are very popular, and economists are starting to buy the Card-Krueger argument that minimum wage hikes don’t much damage employment.

Read the whole piece, it has more content than I have presented.

And will the Internet and distance learning drive down the demand for professors? There we see strong disagreement. I might add that I see future demand as more robust than Alex does and I can’t bring him around to my point of view.


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