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Hug an Economist: We Need It

I’m struck to find that we pointy-headed economists have become a symbol in the presidential campaign. No, not evil trickle-down, right-wing economists who manufacture an uncaring government, or lunatic left-wing, regulate-em-all central planners who want to destroy innovation — but all economists.

Last week I issued a challenge to find a coherent economist who would support the gas tax holiday proposed by candidates McCain and Clinton. And the great sin of economists is that no-one has stepped up. Here’s the latest episode.

N.B.C.’s Tim Russert questioned Terry McAuliffe (chairman of Clinton campaign):

The gas tax holiday is a really interesting issue … Where do you point, who can you point to, in economics, in environmental law, anywhere, people who think it is a good idea?

McAuliffe’s response?

Well first of all, I’m not going to sit here and quote economists, because I don’t think that’s what matters … This is personal to people, they either buy gasoline, or they buy groceries. This is temporary relief for people in this country who are desperate for help…

When Russert re-framed the question, here’s what he got:

Well first of all … Listen, Hillary Clinton is for temporary relief … it is the right thing to do. And maybe for Barack Obama and for many of your economists, Tim, who you may talk to — you know what, maybe an extra hundred bucks for them isn’t a big deal, but I can tell you this, it is a big deal for most Americans.

See the full video here. (HT: T.P.M.)

Lest we let facts invade the debate, here are some relevant numbers:

According to the latest B.L.S. data, the average annual earnings of full-time economists were $76,637, 85 percent higher than the national average of $41,231.

In a 2001 Brookings survey of economists, around 41 percent described themselves as Democrats, compared with 6 percent Republican. Including self-described independents with partisan “leanings,” the comparison is 63 percent vs. 17 percent. This is consistent with a 2003 survey of members of the A.E.A., and roughly similar to results from 1989 and 1997 National Surveys of Faculty.

A survey of 2,000 U.S.-based members of the A.E.A. showed that 77 made donations to Democrats, compared with 15 donating to Republicans.

Update: The same challenge was posed this morning to Senator Bob Menendez, who defended the gas tax holiday on M.S.N.B.C. (Morning Joe) (HT: T.P.M. via Mark Thoma)


Senator we’ll end on a happy note: Just tell me one economist who supports this.


You know, thank god that we don’t have economists making, necessarily, public policy, because they don’t necessarily feel pains that average Americans [feel]. You know, in the abstract there’s a lot of things we could have economists do. A lot of us wouldn’t agree with it.

See the video here, or the full interview version here.