Confirmation Bias: Economic Thinkers

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Aug 25, 2013    •    898 Views

I have been having fun with an economics quiz. All you have to do is answer at least 20 questions out of 100 to identify the economist whose ideas are most similar to yours. (All links are below.)

But first, we should note that the site’s FAQ emphasizes first the consensus among economists. Whether tilting to the left or right, most agree that congestion pricing, legalizing marijuana, a progressive consumption tax and carbon taxes are good. By contrast, the mortgage deduction and corporate and personal income taxes are bad.

But that is only the beginning.

In addition to taking the quiz, you can go to a correlation matrix that let’s you see how much each economist agrees with others in the survey. So, if you go to the square on the matrix where Emmanuel Saez (whose analysis of middle class income we have discussed at econlife) and Richard Thaler (co-author of Nudge) meet, the number is .73. Because 1 indicates perfect agreement and -1 is complete disagreement, you can see that their philosophy primarily coincides.

How to use your correlation information? I suggest referring to it whenever an economist is quoted to identify the person’s bias. Then, especially if you agree with the scholar, you might begin to recognize your own tendency toward confirmation bias. That is, when you hear a fact or opinion with which you agree, do you extract it to prove that your position is valid. Correspondingly, do you de-emphasize the information that disproves your opinions? If yes is your answer, then you are guilty of confirmation bias.

Sources and Resources:

  1. Here is the quiz to determine with whom you agree.
  2. Here is the matrix to see how much different economists agree.
  3. Here is the Planet Money blog that discusses the issues on which most economists agree (“and politicians hate”).
  4. Here is a discussion of confirmation bias.

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