Sunday, January 8, 2012

economics journalism

So true:
“If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion.” This old joke still works because it reflects a common belief that economists can’t agree on anything important. ... 
We think there are two main reasons for the distortions. The first is the conventions of journalism itself: Although there are notable exceptions, most journalists have limited training in economics, and those who edit the articles often have even less. Hence, out of an understandable but misguided sense of fair play, there is a bias toward wanting to show both sides of an issue. When, for example, an economist tells a journalist the equivalent of 1+1=2, the writer, in an effort to provide “balance,” will often include a quote from someone who says that 1+1=3. 
Second, editorial boards don’t want wishy-washy, hedged opinions. As a result, op-ed pages are more likely to publish someone advocating an unequivocal position than someone who offers a more nuanced argument. This favors fringe views. A position that sounds new, yet is completely untested, is all the more enticing to editors, so long as it appears to challenge mainstream views.
Economics is almost definable as the study of trade-offs, and as a result the conclusions always lie in gray areas. But they lay decidedly in the gray area; there's not some confusion or disagreement about whether it's actually black or white. Insisting on a 'balanced' "some say white, others say black" view is just wrong, and insisting on a clear answer to the question "is it white or black?" is also just wrong.

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