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Views among Economists: Professional Consensus or Point-Counterpoint?

date Date: January 1, 2013
date Author(s):  Roger Gordon and Gordon B. Dahl
date Affiliation: University of California San Diego
Abstract

To what degree do economists disagree about key economic questions? Our self-image as a profession would be that our views on economic questions are based on the accumulated academic evidence, both theoretical and empirical. As a literature first develops, the evidence will still be ambiguous, with both alternative theories and contradictory empirical estimates, easily leading to disagreements. But as evidence accumulates, a professional consensus should emerge, perhaps more quickly among those working in the relevant field.

An alternative perception, reflecting the traditional fresh-water/salt-water divide in macroeconomics, is that economists coalesce into different camps, to a degree reflecting a liberal/conservative divide, with one group focusing on evidence that government intervention is almost always too costly ex post to be justified and another that market failures are all too frequent and can be alleviated by well-designed policy interventions. Compounding this divide is differences in the degree of importance given to distributional versus efficiency implications of alternative policies.

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