FAQ for Which Famous Economist

[Continuously updated. Last update December 14th, 2015]

I made a new webpage: http://www.whichfamouseconomistareyoumostsimilarto.com

Here’s an FAQ for it.

Q. What is this and why did you make it?

A. There is a surprising amount of consensus among economists on many issues. Progressive consumption taxes and carbon taxes are good. Personal income taxes and corporate taxes are bad. Congestion pricing is good. The mortgage deduction is bad. Marijuana should be legalized. These positions are endorsed by almost every economist, both from the left and the right, but politicians in Washington tend to support the opposite.

The IGM Forum surveys an ideologically diverse group of top economists on these and other issues. I wish more people knew about their website. My new webpage, http://www.whichfamouseconomistareyoumostsimilarto.com, collects responses from the IGM forum and allows users to compare it to their own responses.

Q. Why is the economist closest to me on the graph different from the economist who actually is closest to me, according to the text below the graph?

A. Each economist can be thought of as a point in a 30 dimensional space, where each dimension corresponds to a question, and unfortunately it’s only possible to display 2 dimensions. While you may appear close to an economist on those 2 dimensions, you may be far apart on the 28 other dimensions that you can’t see.

Q. I don’t have the expertise to answer some of these questions. Should I leave them blank or should I click “Neutral”?

A. You should leave them blank so that they do not enter the calculations. “Neutral” indicates that you have a real opinion somewhere between “Agree” and “Disagree”

Q. Every question I answer makes me move very far on the graph. This seems unreliable.

A. Do not take your graph position seriously until you have answered at least 20 questions. Your position will gradually converge as you answer more.

Q. Responses that “strongly deviate from expert consensus” are highlighted in yellow. What does that mean?

A. It means that your response deviated more that two standard deviations from the IGM panel average.

Q. I just answered a question the exact same way as Economist X. But my position on the graph moved away from him/her. Why?

A. This is a natural consequence of projecting multiple dimensions onto two dimensions. To see why, take a cube-shaped object and trace your finger along the edges from one corner to the opposite corner. Viewed from some angles, your finger might sometimes appear to move away from the destination corner.

Q. What do the two principal components represent?

A. It’s hard so say exactly, but the horizontal axis corresponds pretty closely to the left-right political axis.

Q. Why were some IGM panel economists excluded from your webpage?

A. Economists who answered less than 75% of the questions were excluded.

Q. Has there been any academic study on the responses to the IGM poll questions?

A. Yes, the responses to the IGM poll have been analyzed in a paper by Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales, and in another paper by Roger Gordon and Gordon Dahl. In addition, the polls were discussed during the 2013 American Economic Association annual meeting.