by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
The economist was frustrated. His is a discipline whose principles few seem to know even as they speak out about it as if they are expert.
Perhaps he wondered if professors of aeronautics encounter endless newspaper editorials on how people can fly if they flap their arms hard enough. Or if physics professors have to deal with social scientists insisting gravity is a social construct. Or if geologists constantly hear politicians trying to prevent islands from tipping over.
Perhaps like Poe’s protagonist he had borne the thousand injuries of these Fortunatos on behalf of his discipline, but he must have finally reached a point of exasperation.
“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics,” began the economist, Murray Rothbard, “which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.'”
“But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”
Political profiting from others’ economic ignorance
There’s something even more irresponsible than just that, however. That is taking advantage of others’ economic ignorance with politically geared loud and vociferous opinions.
The origin of the minimum wage is an exceptionally vile example. It was so successful that what began as a deliberate lie loudly and vociferously told is now taken up as received wisdom full of moral rectitude.
So-called economic impact studies are standard fare for misleading people, especially local policymakers, with hokum decked in economics-y sounding stuff. And they’re generated by noneconomists using a software program that makes no accounting for (economics term forthcoming) opportunity costs.
Chock-full of charts and tables and numbers and words, the studies are designed to induce decisionmakers into flipping back to the executive summary that gives them the big dollar figure they say their project will mean for the area.
Which is still not as misleading to people or insulting to the discipline of economics as what the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce is planning.
Measure a thing’s economic impact on the state? Sounds like a part-time temp job to us!
As Don Carrington reported for Carolina Journal (emphasis added):
Opponents of House Bill 2, popularly known as the “bathroom bill,” claim that the legislation has cost jobs in North Carolina, but it may have created at least one.
The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce is advertising a new, part-time position for a person to research and analyze the economic impact of H.B. 2. …
“The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce is seeking to fill a part-time, temporary position, 15 – 20 hours a week, for economic research and analysis on the economic impact of N.C. House Bill 2,” the ad states. …
The job description listed the following responsibilities:
1) Data collection and analysis:
- Review, clip and collect data from all news articles related to H.B. 2
- Collect statements from business, organizations and associations that have made statements about H.B. 2
- Collect financial impact data from businesses that choose to leave North Carolina, decrease their presence/business dealings in North Carolina, and/or choose not to consider North Carolina as a relocation or expansion destination
- Log contacts from individuals that choose to not move to, vacation in, or take a job in North Carolina, or purchase goods and services from North Carolina businesses.
2) Creation of a financial impact report that can be shared with key decision makers and community leaders.
The job description states further that “This short-term project will require dedicated attention for the next 3 – 4 weeks” and pay is hourly.
Ask an economist what it would take to measure the impact of a piece of legislation on an entire state, especially one that doesn’t change taxes or incentives, and the first sound you would hear would be the drawing of a deep breath. Then a litany of all the economic data he’d likely need to collect. It’s doubtful you’d hear him describe newspaper clippings as data.
If he were engaged, he’d go far, far afield of the study parameters and look to see if there were an “increase” to go with that “decrease,” an “enter” to go with that “leave,” and a “choose to” to go along with each “choose not to.”
The poor bastard would probably not even entertain as factually relevant, let alone worth quantifying and comparing the costs and benefits of, such things as “This guy said he was thinking about maybe coming here but now he definitely isn’t.”
The Chamber thinks it can be done in three to four weeks, tops, with a part-time hourly temp employee.
This brings to mind many questions, one of which would have to be:
Who in the world would actually believe the report?
Well, look who already fervently believes doubling the minimum wage would be an unarguably good thing for the economy, for the poor, for the least skilled, for minorities, for everyone.
Local media would be and no doubt are expected to seize upon such a report as if it were hard economic fact, and one would be hard-pressed to imagine any “financial impact” figure that would strike them as too large to be believable. HB2 will cost the state millions? Tens of millions? Hundreds of millions? Something in the billions?
It doesn’t seem that local media are inclined toward skepticism as they ought to be, not when politics is involved, and especially not in an election year. You’d think the bigger the part-timer’s number, the more dubious, but it seems clear that in this media environment, the bigger, the better.
Which is certainly why this short-term after-school job is so structurally averse to anything approaching proper economics.