31 October 2011

Thinking Paper #178: Should economists stop writing letters to newspapers?

By Jacinta Burrow

Abstract

In yesterday’s Observer, 100 economists told George Osborne in a letter that his Plan A for getting the economy back on track is a total crock of shit. Setting aside the fact that the IIPBA has swallowed unquestioningly the Chancellor’s rhetoric that Britain is a “safe haven” (loving your work, Mr O), it has come to our attention that you can find 100 economists to back more or less anything.



Background

There were 100 economists for John McCain and but they were no match for Messrs Hope and Change. A centurion-guard of abacus-fiddlers backed Gordon Brown’s approach to handling Britain’s deficit. And look how well that turned out. In June 2010, 100 economists told President Obama to cut spending to boost private sector job creation (“100 doctors advise President to breathe oxygen”). 100 Italian economists wrote a letter in June 2010 denouncing austerity and claiming it will “destroy Europe”. Yeah! Spend, spend, spend. Pass the parmigiano.

Why 100?

We know full well that it has actually taken one economist to write the letter, a couple of others to suggest amendments, track their changes and email back a corrected copy, and 97 others to sign their names without really reading the letter because they know that they’re not famous enough to be included in the version the newspaper actually prints. 100 has a nice round ring to it (100 pennies in the pound, 100 years in a century, 100 new wrinkles on Nick Clegg’s face every week) even in an economic climate where we’ve taken to measuring everything in billion-trillion-gazillions.

Conclusion

We’re all a little bit scared by the world at the moment and a “100 EXPERTS” headline reassures us that somebody, somewhere knows what the hell is going on. But you can find 100 people who think that we never landed on the moon, or that Jeremy Clarkson should be Prime Minister, or that Ed Miliband is not a complete and utter waste of space. 100 people saying something doesn’t make it true.

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