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February 07, 2020


Patrick Kirk

Sorry I think you are mixing 2 issues. First is whether voters are rational and your reply is that they are not. So thats fair enough. Second is whether we are entitled to ask journalists whose salaries we pay to be balanced. Your final paragraph seems to say "Why bother?" and the answer is that not everyone is irrational and we want to get a full picture rather than a biased selection of facts and opinions.


“For example, Simon has criticised the BBC for inviting Patrick Minford to discuss Brexit without telling the audience that the overwhelming consensus among economists is that Brexit would be harmful to the economy.”

I’d have no problem with informing the audience of that, as long as the audience are also informed that the overwhelming consensus among economists was that joining the ERM in 1990 would work out well for the UK economy, while Minford thought it wouldn’t.

Surely predictive accuracy matters more than expert consensus. I’m no authority on global warming, but I assume the experts have been accurately predicting annual global temperature rises, and the reputation of the expert consensus is simply a byproduct of its current predictive accuracy. If global temperature starts doing the opposite of what the experts predict it will, presumably that brute fact will destroy the authority of the consensus, won’t it?

(BTW I remember reading about an experiment conducted a few years back at one of America’s Ivy League Universities. If this jogs anyone’s memory and you have a link, please post it. The experiment was designed to test various microeconomic theories. Eight teams of students were assigned a boring, repetitive task which needed to be performed accurately, each using one of eight different methods to motivate them to achieve peak productivity. Academic economists, their undergraduate students, and a control group of students with no connection to economics were all asked to predict which approach would deliver the top result. The academic economists did terribly - much worse than blind chance, essentially because each one over-estimated their own preferred method. Their students did a bit better, but the non-economics students did best of all. Does this ring a bell?)


"....the overwhelming consensus among economists was that joining the ERM in 1990 would work out well for the UK economy."

As an academic economist who thought at the time that joining the ERM, especially at an overvalued exchange rate, would be harmful for the UK economy, and cannot remember an overwhelming consensus among (academic) economisits to the contrary, if you have a link for your claim I'd be grateful if you would post it.



1. Those who supported it:

The FT, the Economist, the CBI, the TUC, Robin Leigh Pemberton, Eddie George, Samuel Brittan, Sarah Hogg, Alan Budd, John Eatwell, Gavyn Davies, Meghnad Desai, Andrew Graham, the leaderships of all three main political parties. I’m pretty sure Will Hutton supported it, though I haven’t found any link confirming that.

2. Those who supported it “at a lower rate”:

William Keegan was the only commentator I can find who stated clearly back in 1990 that he thought the 2.95 DM rate was too high. Martin Wolf decided it was too high in 1992, shortly before we exited the ERM; so he probably belongs in the “supporter” category, at least in 1990. It’s important to remember that 2.95 was more or less the rate Sterling was trading at in 1990. Choosing a lower rate at that time would have amounted to a deliberate devaluation, leading to import-led inflation. So any politician choosing to enter the ERM at a rate significantly below 2.95 would have to go on television and give a repeat of Harold Wilson’s “Pound In Your Pocket” speech - which no one wanted to do.

3. Those who opposed it:

Alan Walters, Tim Congdon, Patrick Minford.

Robert Mitchell

Aren't the consensus probability estimates ignoring fat tails?

Jan Wiklund

Which is to say: There are no foolproof methods.

For what can you reasonably demand from media, except a reasonable opportunity for all who have something to say?

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I suppose we should not forget that the BBC is the state broadcasting company and (usually successfully) treads a path between calling out our government as liars and keeping the political peace. This at a time when rich media types are looking for fresh lumps of meat to chew off the BBC.

However it seems to me difficult for any one organisation to take an authoritative position - these people are fools and liars - these people are truthful. Especially where big money and big political and legal power is involved. We must remember that a great deal of politics and commerce is concerned with fooling people and taking their money. That ability is well protected.

There might be a place for an OU course 'How to tell lies' where well known political and business situations were modelled in some sort of roman a cle. Rather in the form of a Victorian melodrama with explanatory subtitles. Tricky keeping the lawyers at bay though. In the past satire and literature played some of this role, but deliberately or not was largely aimed at educating those doing the fooling and taking money to do a better job. Nice to see how it's done though.


"the overwhelming consensus among economists is that Brexit would be harmful to the economy"

Academic disciplines tend to have "overwhelming consensus's". It doesn't mean they are right. It just demonstrates that a clique has control over who is allowed to enter into the group and who is to be barred from entry.

Jon Davies

Balance on mainstream media tends to involve a fair degree of polarisation and simplification. On complex issues there need to be a number of caveats to any strong statement but this does not make for an exciting soundbite.


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