Where are the Economists in the 2012 Election?

I have memories of past presidential elections going all the way back to 1960, and it seems to me that past elections spent more time with actual economists in the spotlight?   Have you seen any economist this election year?  In the past, CBS, NBC and ABC would routinely interview economists about politics, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of them this year.  Has politicians and the public given up on the Ph.D.s of the dismal science?

We have numerous computer climate models to predict the weather, and we have gigantic cosmological models of the universe, telling us how our universe was formed 13.7 billion years ago, so why don’t we hear about super computers contemplating the economy?  You’d think both the Republicans and Democrats would offer some kind of scientific proof to back their economy philosophies.  Are we supposed to just believe what the candidates tell us without reference to academic authority?

economic-model

From what I’ve read, economists work with computer models all the time.  They have been refining their equations for decades.  So why don’t we see economic superstars interviewed on television?  Why aren’t their computer models shown on the nightly news?

First off, it’s impossible to predict the future, but we can model rough trends.  Modeling complex systems is hard.  Modeling the Big Bang and the formation of the universe is easier than modeling the weather, which is more successful than modeling the economy, but modeling the world economy should not be impossible.  Most Americans would want a model of the U.S. economy, but I would imagine it wouldn’t be very accurate without it being part of the model of the world economy.  No matter what Romney or Obama get to do for Americans, it will affect the rest of the world, and then they will affect us right back.

I know very little about economics, but I wonder why economists can’t build an economic model that allows the average citizen to understand  how various tax plans would affect the economy.  What would happen if Romney did get to kill off PBS and Big Bird?  What would happen if we added three trillion to the national debt while the economy recovers?  What would balancing the budget do to the economy?

Here’s the thing about computer models, the more data points the more accurate the model.  A data point would be like a weather station collecting all kinds of measurements.  The best economy model would contain 311,591.917+ data points, one for each citizen of the United States, and to be really accurate, have 7,043,958,151+ points for every person in the world.  We also need one data point for every business in the world.  Another for each aspect of government.  And each data point would measure many factors, such as various tax rates, incomes, assets, debts, etc.  And we’d need equations for every interaction.  So if we lower the corporate tax, how would it affect all other data points?

For example, Romney claimed his criteria for deciding on government spending was:  Does the cost of a program justify borrowing the money from China?

Okay, I can accept that.  But how do we decide for each program?  It can’t be just whim.  Let’s take PBS.  I heard that $450 million of the Federal budget goes to PBS, and that’s just 15% of it’s funding.  What do we get for borrowing $450 million dollars from China by giving it to PBS?  If we had an economic model, could we calculate the early childhood educational benefit of Sesame Street?  PBS teaches me a tremendous lot about American History.  How valuable is American History to American citizens?  Can you put a dollar amount on it?  PBS teaches me a lot about science and nature.  Does that have value?  Can that kind of educational TV be quantified as expanding the economy in some way?

PBS might be an economic powerhouse of early childhood and adult education that generates many times it’s $450 investment.  Just because conservatives want to save a few bucks on their tax returns are we being penny wise and pound foolish to get rid of PBS?  Can we really know without numbers?

I hate it that politicians expect us to take their opinions as facts.  I also hate that so many of my fellow citizens think opinions are facts.

Romney tells people we should say no to PBS, but other than his opinion, what’s backing that idea?  Is his opinion about PBS right?  I’d like to see an economic study done on the impact of PBS before I’d accept cutting  PBS from the budget.  Even as a jobs incentive program, how many jobs are created with that $450 million dollar investment?

Economics might be the dismal science, but I’d rather hear facts and figures about the economy from an economist than a politician.  I just can’t accept opinions from the left and right, I want some hard cold facts to chew on.

JWH – 10/6/12

2 thoughts on “Where are the Economists in the 2012 Election?

  1. Actually, Jim, we have another option. We don’t have to pay for everything by borrowing money from China. In fact, for the most part, we don’t. We pay taxes to support our own government.

    Is PBS worth a dollar and a half a year from each American? Some people might say no, and that’s a valid opinion. But as a nation, we’ve generally decided otherwise. We can afford a dollar and a half a year to help educate and entertain America’s children.

    And it’s not Big Bird who destroyed our economy. It’s not Big Bird who created this massive deficit. It’s Republicans who did that. George W. Bush promised that his tax cuts would go mostly to the poor, and that they wouldn’t add to the deficit (sounds like Romney, doesn’t it).

    Instead, it was a windfall for the super-rich, and it turned a budget surplus into record-breaking deficits. Then he started two wars for no reason and WITHOUT PAYING FOR THEM. Then he collapsed our economy in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Big Bird did none of that.

    It’s not Big Bird that’s the problem. You could cut all of PBS without making a dent in the deficit. The cold hard facts are that we need to reverse course from the right-wing path we’ve been on for decades. It was Republicans who destroyed our economy AND our budget. To get back to economic sanity again, we need to reverse course on all of that.

    We can afford PBS. We always could. What we can’t afford are massive spending on the military (why do we need all that to fight a ragtag band of goat herders with improvised explosives?) and massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

    1. You are reading my mind….The PBS decision is just a distraction; what magicians have been doing for a long time to divert attention from the real slight of hand…

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