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Economic Think Tank Polls Experts on Key Policy Questions

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In the late ’90s Internet bubble, it seemed people hung on every word uttered by stock analysts; a decade on and it’s now cool to be an economist. At a time when the economy seems broken and public policy adrift, people look to practitioners of the “dismal science” to know how to set things aright.

And now thanks to a just launched website produced by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, you can follow your favorite economist, or get a sense of what the consensus of leading economists think about a variety of current public policy questions.

Premised on the idea taught in statistics that a representative sample is an indicator of a far broader population, Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets assembled a panel of 40 leading economists from among senior faculty at leading U.S. research universities. The group includes Nobel laureates, academic journal editors and Republicans, Democrats and Independents who have been outspoken on public policy matters.

The site, launched Sunday, is expected to poll the economists on current topics on a weekly basis, and has already archived several questions asked prior to the site’s launch. Readers can see a bar chart for an instant view of consensus opinion and can click a tab for a breakdown of how each panelist voted, including any comment that expert might have chosen to add. Those interested in following one or more specific economists can click on a tab and see how he or she voted on all survey questions.

Chicago Booth’s Richard Thaler, University of California at Berkeley’s Barry Eichengreen and the Institute for Advanced Study’s Eric Maskin are among the 40 big-name expert panelists.

The most recent policy question archived on the site concerns “buying American”. The survey fielded the following proposition: “Federal mandates that government purchases should be “buy American” unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, have a significant positive impact on U.S. manufacturing employment.”

Readers can instantly grasp that a large plurality of economists panned the motion; the site offers a numeric breakdown or, alternatively, a breakdown weighted by each panelist’s confidence.

On that question, Maskin–a 2007 Nobel prize winner–voted his disagreement and added the comment: “Such mandates are well-intentioned but quite inefficient.” Eichengreen also disagreed, but had no comment. And Thaler had no opinion, an indication he felt the policy question was outside his area of expertise.

Other archived policy questions concern tax reform; stock prices; exchange rates; education; taxes; and monetary  policy. Readers can subscribe for update notifications.