Sunday, 9 December 2012

How to really think like an economist

Via Tyler Cowan here's Greg Ip economics editor of the economist

http://journalistsresource.org/reference/research/chat-the-economists-greg-ip-key-tips-business-reporting-analysis


You need to think like an economist. Any time anyone says something is bad, the immediate question you should ask is: Relative to what? It’s very important, for example, in assessing the President’s economic program. So someone says, “The economy is bad.” Well, relative to what? Relative to what it would have been? Relative to another country? These are important questions to ask because they help you think through the implications of what you’re saying. Just to give another example: The President says, “Oil and gas production are at record highs.” Well, relative to what? Relative to what they would have been if you weren’t President? Then you realize it is mostly driven by private exploration and development on private land. If you look at production on federal land, it’s down. But then President Obama could himself say, “Relative to what?” Because as it turns out, some of the deposits on federal land are very old and are being tapped out. Also, because of the Macondo oil spill in 2010, there was a drilling moratorium. So, whenever someone asserts something – especially a partisan – the question is “Relative to what?” That is why when people say, “The debt is at a record level!”, you should ask that question. Economists know that you do not just look at the debt and say, “Well, it was $100 last year and it’s at $102 this year. It’s at a record level –that’s terrible!” That’s up 2 percent. If GDP grew 3 percent over the same period, then debt relative to GDP went down. And that is the metric we should be looking at.

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