Doug Elmendorf and Greg Ip on the Value of Economics for Public Policy

Journalist Greg Ip makes a better case for economics in public policy than many economists themselves do. Here is an excellent passage from the article shown above, partly based on his interview of my classmate and coauthor Doug Elmendorf (whom I wrote about in my unsuccessful plea "The New Republican Majority Should Keep Doug Elmendorf as Director of the Congressional Budget Office"):

“Informed analysis will sometimes be wrong, but I’d rather bet on informed analysis than ignorant guesses,” says Douglas Elmendorf, who ran the CBO from 2009 to 2015 and oversaw its original estimates of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Economic analysis exposes the trade-offs inherent in all policy choices. Import tariffs protect some workers but hurt consumers; a higher minimum wage helps low-skilled workers who have jobs but makes it harder for others to find jobs; eliminating minimum required benefits for health insurance makes coverage cheaper for some consumers but more expensive for others. Identifying these effects “doesn’t mean everyone will agree. But at least people can make decisions with their eyes open,” says Mr. Elmendorf.

Unbiased analysis doesn’t guarantee good decisions, but it makes really bad ones less likely.