Out of Control Policy Blog

Do we care about expert opinion?

In many cases, what the experts have to say has a big effect on public opinion. Think about global warming. Most people think it's real because climate scientists say it's real.

But, as Bryan Caplan has pointed out, the public is less willing to defer to the experts in economic matters. He discovers four big econ error biases: anti-foreign bias, anti-market bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias.

In each case, what economists think is much different than what everyone else thinks. Take the last of the four biases. Economists generally think that things are getting better, while the man-on-the-street is far more likely to think things are getting worse.

Robin Hanson expands on the theme:

    Consider how differently the public treats physics and economics. Physicists can say that this week they think the universe has eleven dimensions, three of which are purple, and two of which are twisted clockwise, and reporters will quote them unskeptically, saying "Isn't that cool!" But if economists say, as they have for centuries, that a minimum wage raises unemployment, reporters treat them skeptically and feel they need to find a contrary quote to "balance" their story.

Part of this has to do with the inherent differences between the physical and social sciences. Part has to do with the fact that most people will freely admit that they don't know a damn thing about physics. Yet everyone lives in the midst of economic activity, so folks are more likely to think they know a thing or two about economics.

Related: Economists don't like rail transit, but city council members do

Ted Balaker is Producer


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