David Bell's picture
Affiliation: 
University of Stirling
Credentials: 
Professor of Economics

Voting history

Are academic economists ‘in touch’ with voters and politicians?

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Question 6: Economists did not explain the reasons for this consensus in sufficiently clear language.

Do you agree this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Strongly agree
Confidence level:
Very confident
Comment:
There are far too few academic economists with the ability to convey their arguments clearly to the public, or even with an interest in engaging with the public (doesn't count towards the REF?).

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Question 4: Voters did not believe the economic arguments put forward (for example, because they thought the arguments put forward by macroeconomists with dissenting views made more sense or because voters have little faith in economists in general).

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Agree
Confidence level:
Confident
Comment:
Messages were coming from a variety of sources - press, interest groups, politicians as well as economists. Not clear that economists were able to portray themselves as a distinctive, and more authoritative, source of information.

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Question 3: Voters chose to leave the EU for non-economic reasons.

Do you agree that this was an important reason for a majority of UK voters going against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
Neither agree nor disagree
Confidence level:
Confident
Comment:
Some voted to leave based on the issue of sovereignty. Others were persuaded by "economic" arguments. These were delivered through simple, often erroneous, sound bites, that perhaps resonated with that section of the public more familiar with game shows than serious debate.

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Question 2: What do you think is the most likely reason that a majority of UK voters went against the near unanimous advice of the economics profession?

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Answer:
A. Non-economic reasons more important
Confidence level:
Very confident
Comment:
Two points: one group who have not seen their circumstances improve over a long period was playing an ultimatum game, arguing that change could not make them worse off. Some had a mistaken view of the nature of sovereignty that was clouded by a nostalgic view of Britain's past and others had concerns about immigration, which in some cases were real but in most were imaginary.

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Question 1: Do you agree that the economics profession needs an institutional change that promotes the ability to communicate more effectively with policy-makers and the public at large and to make clear when economists have a united view; and do you agree that we need to introduce leadership to help achieve this improvement through coordinated efforts?

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Answer:
Agree
Confidence level:
Very confident
Comment:
Completely agree that better communication mechanisms needed. Some modern arguments within academic economics remind me of the medieval debate about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. The public, who pay for our activity, might rightly be perturbed by the uselessness of such endeavours if they could penetrate its arcane language. I am less clear about the need for "leadership". The Brexit debate revealed very clearly that the UK is not a deferential society. This was most evident in the treatment of the Bank of England and in particular, its governor. But also in the dismissal by the press of various letters of support for the "Remain" case from groups of eminent economists. I would strongly support much more effort being put into: (1) the effort to educate the public on economic issues and (2) mechanisms being put in place to make the press more accountable for the statements that they make and (3) a review of the BBC Charter so that it reflects the balance of argument among professional economists (or scientists, medics etc in relation to their disciplines) rather than always giving the impression that there are two sides to every argument (and therefore implicitly weighting them equally)

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