In his Friday column for the New York Times, Paul Krugman warns that the ignorance of the people making our policy -- like, say, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- isn't just demoralizing, it's dangerous. Because "what policy makers don’t know, or worse, what they think they know that isn’t so, can definitely hurt you," he writes.
Krugman has been spending his summer perusing surveys from the Initiative on Global Markets and has found that, contrary to the shouting one might hear from Congress or talking heads on CNBC, "there is much less professional controversy" among leading economists about things like trade sanctions or the success of the stimulus than we're generally led to believe.
The most recent poll of these top economists asked if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the stimulus -- reduced unemployment. The agreement was overwhelming. "All but one of those who responded said that it did, a vote of 36 to 1," Krugman points out. A second question about whether the stimulus was "worth it" produced a 25 to 2 consensus.
But policymakers don't listen to the experts, "placing their faith instead in doctrines most economists firmly reject." Politicians and talking heads tend to ignore the consensus that exists, and run with fringe theories that suit their agenda. It's a real recipe for disaster:
Am I saying that the professional consensus is always right? No. But when politicians pick and choose which experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to believe, the odds are that they will choose badly. Moreover, experience shows that there is no accountability in such matters. Bear in mind that the American right is still taking its economic advice mainly from people who have spent many years wrongly predicting runaway inflation and a collapsing dollar.
All of which raises a troubling question: Are we as societies even capable of taking good policy advice? [...] And macroeconomics, of course, isn’t the only challenge we face. In fact, it should be easy compared with many other issues that need to be addressed with specialized knowledge, above all climate change. So you really have to wonder whether and how we’ll avoid disaster.