Economists Versus the Public on Economic Policy

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Abstract

Most economists know from personal experience that their perspective on the economy is unpopular. When they teach introductory students or write a basic textbook, one of their main goals is to correct students’ misconceptions. What makes this task easier is that students usually share the same misconceptions. They resist the standard critique of price controls, doubt the benefits of free trade, and believe the economy is in secular decline. What makes this task harder, though, is that students usually resist efforts to correct their misconceptions. Even if they learn the material to pass the final exam, only a fraction are genuinely convinced. The position of the modern economic educator is, moreover, far from novel. The 19th-century experiences of Frederic Bastiat in France (1964) and Newcomb (1893) in the United States mirror those of Jeffrey Sachs (1994) in 20th-century Russia.