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I don't have a problem saying that candidate or a party's position is good, or at least better than the available alternatives. But I'd have a problem endorsing a candidate or a party.

Why shouldn't you endorse candidates? Endorsing Obama didn't stop DeLong from writing long descriptions of Obama's "Unforced Errors". Write what you think is true; back it up as well as you can; and when "your team" does something dumb, call them on it. (ie to the NDP person on The House this morning who did not know that a carbon cap-and-trade system wuth an auction is the same as a carbon tax

"the remark was not a complement" What was it substituting for?

Our #1 responsibility, as academics, is to our students. As soon as we align ourselves with a political party, and say "this is what I believe" we create a situation where our students (probably wrongly) assume that they will get higher grades if they parrot the party line. Good teaching should encourage students to think critically, to reach their own conclusions, and telling students "this is the right answer" gets in the way of rigorous analytic thought.

Frances, I believe you work for an institution of higher learning, not a teaching institution. Thus everything from this blog to your exams is part of what you do for that. (Not every prof can or should be a public intellectual, but if you are good at it, then great.)

So what do you do when your academic work butts up against public issues?

1- The "keep to the issues, not candidates approach" is what you seem to advocate.
2- Pick a team wand work for it. ie Greg Mankiw. These people don't criticize their own team when they think their own team is wrong. (Mankiw says he supports Pigou taxes but won't say the R. politicians are wrong.)
3- The DeLong/Krugman approach: support a side, but don't explicitly work for it. Criticize your own side when needed.

The advantage of 2 is that of your side wind you will have a lot of influence. 3 makes you a more reliable public intellectual.

Everyone seems to like Mankiw's textbook. Since he is in on a team why isn't that "courageous".

Working in the public arena can be messy. Be open, be open to criticism and make sure that what you say is in fact true. But doing it is public service.

It's probably not fair, and I certainly don't mean to cast aspersions, but the first thing I think when I hear someone give a blanket endorsement to this or that candidate or party is: what are they getting in return? It's probably cynical, but there it is. Less if an issue if you tend to pick losers, but then what if you pick a winner and they subsequently offer you a plum job? Might not look so good.

Chris J: "Pick a team wand work for it. ie Greg Mankiw."

The dynamics of this are really different in Canada than in the US because we're such a small country. We're small enough that, within some cosy circles - especially the media - it seems like everyone knows everyone. If I wanted to have more influence I could get it, no problem - I've turned down Power and Politics, a medium profile national TV show, a couple of times in the last six months, because being on TV makes me nervous.

Having a parliamentary system also makes a big difference. Unlike the US, there is real power wielded by those who can make it to influential positions within the party - more "In the Thick of It" than "Yes Minister." It's not easy to get into those influential positions; the competition for influence within the party is intense. I could publicly declare "I support the Rhinoceros Party's position on legal reform" - but so what? The people with real influence don't have to do that - they just have a chat with the leader of the Rhino party over drinks in the bar one night, or in behind closed doors meetings.

I think the one danger of economists endorsing a political party is the risk that suddenly that school of thought instantly becomes the econ school of that political movement. Anyone who does not support that political party would not take any ideas of that school of thought seriously, like news media. If you vote Liberal or NDP you are not likely to not take Sun seriously. If you are a Tory the CBC and TorStar are just viewed as free propaganda for the NDP & Liberals. For myself I already view some econ school of thoughts and schools as being more about politics than economics. London School of Economics as an example I see as leftwing politics over economics. If an NDP or union wants an economist to "prove" their political promises or views - they get an economist from the LSoE to say so. If I was ever in a position to be needing to hire an economist, that would be one school I would skip over. Not even an interview (a chance) would be given. Chicago School however would be a big plus in my view (my father is a graduate of the Chicago School and was an Econ professor for the UofA until he retired).

What a shame if Mark Carney came out and started getting political. He could if he quit his job and became a columnist, TV show host or ran for public office. Just he should not in his current position.

Also, once politicians gain power they have tons of professionals working for them. Keeping the academy separate, gives us at least some independent voices.

Thanks everyone for your comments - they are quite helpful. Slowly going through them one by one. First Stephen:

"I don't have a problem saying that candidate or a party's position is good, or at least better than the available alternatives. But I'd have a problem endorsing a candidate or a party."

I don't really see the difference. If you say "Party X's policies make the most sense", that's a de facto endorsement, in my view.

I'd be adding the 'on this file' proviso. My concern would be that approval on one thing would be interpreted as approval on all issues. Or worse, pre-approval on positions yet to be taken.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the supply of endorsements so greatly exceeds the demand for them that they've be rendered worthless.

"London School of Economics as an example I see as leftwing politics over economics."

Yeah, all of those leftwing nutjobs like Mervyn King - but what can you expect from the intellectual home of Frederich Hayek and Karl Popper?

As a layman, what would bother me about an economist joining a political team (which sounds like a stronger commitment than what you are talking about), is the unscientific nature of politics. That is, the scientific attitude is to be critical of one's own hypotheses and arguments. The political attitude is to make any argument you can in favor of your views. Just as with battling experts in a court trial, you end up casting a skeptical eye on the experts for both sides.

Take a look at... http://economistsforromney.com/
If your endorsing would take this path, then I prefer a different, unaffiliated approach.
One thing that is sorely lacking is economic policy *fact checking*. It would be nice if a "Consumers Reports for economic policies" could do a better job than the newspapers (which are also unfortunately partisan) in telling consumers about proposed policies: (a) whether the claims are factual, (b) where they have been tried before and the success/failure of those programs, (c) and if policies are speculative, what are the pros and cons. Of course, being the Consumers Reports leadman will never get you to be Deputy Minister for Finance, but maybe this is the Canadian way.

Yes, I tend to prefer the 'consumers reports' model. Ideally (this ideal isn't always met) I'd like to say something like "X is supposed to produce outcome Y, but available evidence says it it more likely to produce Z". Of course, if people like Z, then that's fine.


A couple of responses to a couple of your comments.

CBC Power and Politics is the number rated show in Canada for political junkies - starting with MPs - and it is closely monitored (I am told) by all the political parties and ALL the federal and provincial government ministries, as well as lobbyists, trade associations and NGOs.

You would be excellent on TV - especially P & P - where policy wonks are welcome. Don't sell yourself short.

BTW, the host, Evan Solomon - a journalist policy wonk - is hosting a debate on Orwell's 1984 at Carleton next week - sponsored by your Faculty.

Re your comments on Hayek which suggested disdain for his presumably conservative views (?), Hayek did publish an article entitled, "why I am not a conservative" and in his writings he claimed he was a "classical liberal" and eventually claimed he was a Burkean Whig.

Burke, an Irishman (we can overlook that) wrote the first and most important critique on political revolutions in Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Now I ask: who could possibly object to anyone who classifed himself or herself as a Burkean Tory?

Frances, endorsement of experts is an excellent way of knowing about a candidate. Nike supporting Erin Weir indicates that the policies Mr Weir supports are based on sound economics. What it boils down to is that I as a voter can know that he is not a crazy but rather someone who understands what the economics of his policy really are. I am in Ontario now (I grew up in Saskatchewan) and I find the NDP policies like "don't put HST on home heating" depressing because people like you have explained to me that it is just so much easier to raise the HST credit instead.

So Mike tells me that Mr Weir will have economically sound center-left positions. I can agree or disagree with the philosophy but the endorsement tells me a huge amount.

As a voter I don't get to join you in the bar with the finance minister.

> Yeah, all of those leftwing nutjobs like Mervyn King

Yes LSoE, it's my example on impression & assumption. Every time I see a union or NDP economist on TV they just always seem to be a graduate of that school.

If anyone here is a graduate of LSoE than I apologize. I was just speaking how things can lead to impression, general subjective impressions. A person has to weight that with any action (but has the right to do what they like). I did not mean it as a personal jab. I have no idea where people here went to school and it doesn't matter. My favorite econ professor I had at school was Neo-Keynesian. I don't see myself as one though. I'm more influenced by my dad and his economics.

Ian - I have a great deal of time for Hayek's work - Use of Knowledge in Society, for example. I have much less time for people who are casually dismissive of anyone who's a graduate of the LSE.

Frances, when academic economists decline to speak in the media, we instead get union and bank economists, who tend to supply rather more self-serving arguments. Also, people who call themselves economists and have little training on the subject (more commonly seen in US media). I can understand why you would be reticent to appear on a show like P&P, but I think it would be an important and valuable public service to get reasoned arguments on the relative merits of policy. We need evidence-based decision making, not decision-based evidence making.

Andrew F: That's true enough, but the format of these panels is very off-putting. P&P try to reproduce the same partisan structure of the political panels, believing - correctly, for all I know - that the spectacle of people disagreeing violently makes for good TV. I'm happy to take all the time it takes to explain a point of analysis. I'm not going to play the part of a gladiator in a 3-way melee.

Andrew F - I agree with you, which is why I do radio and print, but my nearest and dearest (who are my most honest critics) tell me that TV is not my strong point.

One of my favorite media experiences was when Erin Weir and I were on Lang and O'Leary together and the hosts were getting visibly annoyed when Erin and I started agreeing with each other.

I think it's a good idea for our "public intellectuals" to provide commentary on the policies and candidates, so long as one is willing to rescind an endorsement should the policies pursued or ideas of an individual (or party) deviate from the initially approved set. Alternatively, one could publicly denounce a particular change while maintaining support of those unaltered policies or ideas.

I must say that after having attended the Liberal convention last winter and watching the dreaded omnibus Crime bill pass through, that I am sorely disappointed in the political system's application of "evidence based policy making". It is for this reason that I feel our "public intellectuals" should have more weight in the political arena.

I remember that a professor of mine was going to be doing a television panel on C-PAC but at the last minute they swapped him for a more right wing expert in order to spur "debate". The situations that academics and other experts find themselves in on television don't very often facilitate intelligent discussion about a policy or idea. Instead I rather like Stephen's description of participants as "a gladiator in a 3-way melee."

There was an interesting couple of "Planet Money" broadcasts in which they tried to get a team of five varied economists to agree on a series of policies. Chicago types to liberal types to libertarians. Very interesting.

But we do need you guys to tell us this stuff and what makes sense and what doesn't. Why you disagree when you do and why you agree when you do. It may not be "pure" but we do need you. Mike did right.

Stephen, Frances and Mike,

I must respectfully disagree. Indeed, CBC P & P has partisan panels which are not always illuminating - not because they are disagreeing with one another - but because the debaters often do not possess a deep understanding of the subject or they are constrained by party position and talking points. But this does not apply to the non MP panels e.g. Tom Flanagan.

However, in my judgment, the creation of P & P and Lang and O'Leary (and the various panels) was urgently essential.

Why? Because CBC was notoriously unbalanced in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and this generated a backlash from those whose views were marginalized or excluded. Yet, CBC is publicly funded by ALL taxpayers.

(Disclosure: I have listened and watched CBC since the age of 5 in 1959 as my parents only listened and watched CBC in our home - I still remember Max Ferguson and Rawhide and his dead on imitations of John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson).

By 2005, CBC execs understood they had a very serious strategic problem with rapidly aging and dwindling audiences AND a political backlash.

Their brilliant response - for those who care about the CBC as I do - was: Lang and O'Leary for the business community previously ignored by CBC; a revamped P & P that allowed views beyond the previously hegemonic view of orthodox liberalism; and thirdly, a revamped hockey program with Don Cherry (hockey nuts pay taxes and are citizens as well - disclosure - I do NOT watch hockey).

In my judgment, these decisions SAVED the CBC - AND in an intelligent manner - provided broader exposure to political, business and economic processes and decisions, previously ignored. This is a good - not a bad - that should be celebrated - not denigrated.

Turning to the "gladiator" nature of public debates, it must be noted that debates are at the very centre of classical education, that started with Socrates in the agora. Think of the famous Oxford Union debating society - which I am told is far more aggressive than anything on CBC P & P. Bill Clinton excelled in this forum when he was there and probably prepared him to be the highly skilled politician he became.

The model of aggressive debate was brought into English common law as a foundational principle - that we are able to more closely determine truth through dialectical cross examination.

Thus, I reject the assumption that having two people sit on a panel to agree with one another provides a deeper illumination and understanding of the issues at bar.

Think William F Buckley on PBS Firing Line or the polymath George F Will on any public panel.

Public policy will be debated regardless of whether any professor partipates or not. And policy is debated irrespective of credentials i.e. people we perceive as "inferior" in knowledge or education or experience or insight. I strongly reject this assumption implicitly held by some professors.

In the agora of democracy, every participant is equal - in having the opportunity to debate in the arena (democracy is horizontal - not a vertical hierarchy).

Then it is up to the debater's knowledge, logic, insights and speaking skills to provide more compelling arguments, to note logical contradictions, lack of empirics et al.

IF we (professors) want to try to influence public opinion concerning some public policy, we have to show up.

As Woody Allan said, 90% of life is just showing up.


1)" something is okay because Robin Boadway seems to think it's okay" is a horrible reason ...
No. If somebody with great knowledge, judgment and wisdom suggest something, it is a good indication on where to go. I'd take very good notice of what a Nobel prize in medecine would tell me about my health.

2) I think we can manage endorsing the views of a political party, if we have professionnal and personnal ethics. I am extremely active in politics and I am still invited in the regional media to speak as a public intellectual (such as it is) because everybody here knows I don't behave like a hack.

3)The problem we have with Hayek is that he was such a ataunch defender of freedom. Especially in its correspondence with Margaret Thatcher deploring that you couldn't do in Britain what their friend Pinochet did in Chlie.

4)Given waht most Canadians think of Québécois, you should endorse sovereignist parties...
I was a federalist for years and served in the staff in a prominent QC federalist politician (and at he time of Meech Lake was set to become an assistant deputy minister for ON.) Up to when I got my fill of hearing what federalists thought of Québécois ( mostly unprintable here.) When even thoughtful, intelligent and decent guys tell you they don't want to hear an argument proposed by other decent people, it's time to get out. If a husband refused to listen to his wife and break his silence only long enough to tell her to STFU, it is ground for divorce. If he threatens to use violence, it's time to call the police. I won't go further,but you opened the door...

Oh, don't get me wrong. I wasn't criticizing the show. It was just a funny moment.

This is a thorny issue, as all the previous comments will certainly bear out.

When I teach the economics of advertising, I discuss celebrity endorsements, and argue that the point of them is to use the perceived trustwrothiness of the endorser (Bill Cosby; Tiger Woods) to cast a favorable glow over the endorsed product (Jello; Buick). Note that the producer of the product is using the reputation of the endorser to further the producer's ends, while the endorser is using his or her public reputation to enhace his or her income.

Now political endorsements are rarely (never) made in exchange for cash, although some endorsers might hope for a position in the office of the endorsee. But what the candidate is doing in seeking endorsements is the same thing that Jello does in seeking celebrity spokespeople--trading on the reputation of the endorser.

What about unsolicited endorsements? To what extent is that different? I'm still lending my credibility to a candidate, so, for me, the downside is the same...And so I do not endorse candidates.

"London School of Economics as an example I see as leftwing politics over economics."

When did that happen? Has John Williamson been told? After all, this Conservative MP has an MA from LSE. Perhaps the problem at LSE is quality control, rather than 'leftwing politics' per se. Not always the same thing.

"Think William F Buckley on PBS Firing Line or the polymath George F Will on any public panel."

Generally speaking, when you are selecting persons to debate a particular public issue,I'd say it is a good idea to look at track records. Rhetorical skills often trump data in debates, so to ensure quality the producers should disquality those who have a track record of being wrong. That might disqualify Will for example. Surely we can find people who disagree on an issue but at the same time fairly evaluate the available data.

"Because CBC was notoriously unbalanced in the 1970s, 80s and 90s"

Yeah, the old Kierans, Lewis and Camp "debates" on Morningside were brutal as they basically involved three people agreeing with one another. Kierans was the nominal Liberal on the panel, but had always been on the left-wing of the Liberal party (he thought Trudeau's economic policy wasn't radical enough) and had considered running for leader of the NDP in the mid-1970s. Lewis, WAS a former NDP leader (in Ontario). And Camp was one of the godfathers of Canadian red toryism. That's not a knock on the merits of those commentators, but even by the mid-1980's that wasn't a panel that was remotely reflective of the realities of the Canadian political scene (or, but maybe it amounts to the same thing, the regional realities of Canada - since all three of those commentators were from Eastern Canada).

Kierans also wrote the forward to Lewis Sr.'s "Corporate Welfare Bums" book.

Bob - you are resurrecting old memories! I had forgotten those panels with Gzowski that your citation instantly triggered. Yes - they and CBC were so Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto centric that it caused a young Peter Loughheed to frequently rail against and criticize the central Cdn bias (not to mention my late mother shouting(!) at the radio - why are you not talking to anyone from Saskatchewan or Alberta?)

But the then CBC bias culminated and manifested itself most explicitly with its reporting of Trudeau's NEP which generated unbelievable, visceral anger in western Canada and complete incomprehension in the reporting by the CBC at the time in central Canada.

It seems to me that today, CBC News is far more nuanced, sophisticated and with a deeper understanding of the regional cleavages and philosophical differences today and thus is far more tolerant of a spectrum of ideas and people.

Thought experiment: can anyone imagine a Kevin O'Leary or Don Cherry on CBC in the 70s or 80s? Unthinkable. Unimaginable. These two names are provided as proxies to indicate how far the CBC has evolved from then to now. (I exempt the late Barbara Frum from my criticisms of 70s and 80s CBC for she was veritably a sui generis giant that provided the precedent for a better CBC).

And to return to my original point, there is a "market" for professors on CBC. But it is TV and you need to be a bit "entertaining".

Not a bad thing. When I first starting teaching in 1988, I used to watch one of the Carleton intro courses broadcast on the local cable channel. It was taught by someone called Nick Rowe.

His lectures were highly structured and logical yet presented in a - dare I say it - entertaining and humorous manner.

I was in awe of his lecturing skills (not to mention he did it all - for 3 hours - drawing graph after graph on the chalk board with zero notes at hand).

So - one can deal with serious issues in a humorous and entertaining way on TV.

Both Cherry and O'Leary are rather anti-intellectual. They make for disappointing conservative voices.

Andrew - you may have misunderstood my point that CBC was not representative of the vox populi. Some argue the CBC should not even try to be. But there is the pesky little problem of the $1 BILLION annual subsidy from Parliament - from taxpayers. When you accept monies from the govt, demands for accountability and representativeness will inevitably follow.

The issue is not whether conservative voices are represented. There are a lot of Canadians that believe that Cherry is the fountainhead (I do not). And I know there are a good number of Canadians that silently cheer every time O'Leary does his rant against unions - for I have heard these comments privately - repeatedly over the last 40 years.

The problem with we intellectuals is that we ardently and passionately support plurality and diversity of views and opinions - so long as everyone sounds and talks like us and agrees with us.

Hence the hypocrisy of Margaret Atwood - the former President of PEN opposed to govt censorship of any kind - passionately attempting to use the govt to stop the granting of a license to Sun.

The late Chairman Mao had it right: "let a thousand flowers bloom" - on CBC, Sun, the Globe and Mail. And good for the Globe and Mail for finally establishing Economy Lab - long, long, long overdue - and giving a voice and platform to Stephen and Frances et al.

Maybe we need our own "cultural revolution" whereby we force professors (and artists) to complete a sabbatical on a farm or on a production line - or perish the thought - in a bank or financial institution (even better than the army) - you know - to see how the "masses live" (to avoid the Pauline Kael problem: “”I do not know how Nixon was elected president because I do not know anyone in Manhattan who voted for him").

"Both Cherry and O'Leary are rather anti-intellectual"

Maybe, although at least in the case of Cherry, since he's a hockey commentator, it's kinda hard to hold that against him.

Diversity of views? Sometimes views are not aired not because they are opposite or unpopular but because they are wrong. It is not that I don't like O'Leary but he is mostly wrong. Cherry not only murder colors butdoesn't know hockey. Sorry.

Are we going into Roma Hruska's argument in defense of mediocrity?


"Sometimes views are not aired not because they are opposite or unpopular but because they are wrong."

Well, if the CBC limited itself to airing perspectives that are not wrong, there'd be a lot of dead air on the CBC (in fact, given the quality of television and radio punditry, that would probably true of a a lot of private broadcasters as well).

In any event, part of the logic of having a "diversity" of views is precisely to identify (and discredit) those views that are wrong. If you only get one perspective, you can't assess its rightness or wrongness (or that of the alternatives). And, of course, if the CBC's universe of views that are not "wrong" is limited to the relatively narrow ideological spectrum represented by the beliefs of Kierans, Lewis and Camp (or their ideological successors) than that's a compelling reason for getting rid of it.

Besides, I can't speak for you, but I love listening to lefties, as they tend to reinforce the correctness of my generally right-wing world view.

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