A survey of Australian economic opinions

The Economic Society of Australia is conducting a survey of Australian economists, seeking their opinions about a range of current policy issues, as well as on matters relating to the profession itself.  The survey has been emailed to all members of the Society and to those economists for whom email addresses were found (economists from econ departments in Australia). The survey closes in two weeks time and the results will be presented at the ACE conference in July, with expected articles in newspapers and online fora.

The idea of the survey is to give a voice to the thousands of economists in Australia who do not regularly talk to the media, by asking their views on economic issues. The survey asks opinions about fiscal deficits, education policy, taxation policy, carbon taxes, trade policy, and basically anything that has been controversial in economic policy debates in the last 10 years or so. Essentially this is an opportunity for Australian economists to have their say.

In order to do the survey, you need to be invited. Economic society members are automatically invited and merely have to click on a link in an email that is sent to them to reach the survey. Nearly all academic economists have been sent an email that invites them indirectly: they have to send an email to the main person organising the survey, Richard Hayes ([email protected]) , who then sends a personalised link. Yet, basically any economist in Australia who is keen to have their say should feel themselves invited to mail Richard and ask to be included. This for instance goes for economists in ministries, banks, and regulatory institutions.

The survey has a number of academic and institutional sponsors, including of course most prominently the Economic Society headed by Bruce Chapman and with Jonathan Pincus who heads the sub-committee that oversees the running of the survey. On the academic side, Richard Hayes from the Melbourne Business School is the main person organising and running the survey with me and Joshua Gans as ‘silent academic partners’  in the endeavour.

Similar surveys have been run in the US and the UK, and a previous one in Australia was done by Fred Argy who has been  consulted about this version too. Experience shows that the average responses to topical questions show up a lot in newspapers and policy debates and also serve as an internal reality check for economists (what do their peers think?). The voice of economists matter. Obviously, the survey is anonymous, with almost no personal information actually gathered.

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10 Responses to A survey of Australian economic opinions

  1. Mark Heydon says:

    This might open a can of worms, but what is the definition of an economist?

  2. Rob Bray says:

    I have done the survey – and I am far from being laudatory about it.

    Unfortunately I did not keep a copy of the questions, but I found far too many of them were pitched at ideological positions rather than real questions.

    Working from memory I think there was question about “middle class welfare” – what a loaded (and to my mind simply rhetorical) question. But nothing about the substantive issues – if you believe in capacity to pay being part of a tax system, or believe that raising kids gives rise to some positive externalities rather than just private consumption, then on horizontal equity grounds you are likely to support a lower rate of taxation for those who are supporting children. Whether you support providing this through the tax or transfer system is then another question – but none of this emerged in the survey.

    I think there was also a balanced budget question which again just invited a knee jerk response – rather than recognising the real range of answers which are ‘it depends on the circumstances’ – if there is a price driven export boom there are good reasons for taking decisions on generating a surplus well above the balance over the cycle, if you are investing in infrastructure and know you have a growing population, you may well not balance over the cycle recognising that debt is appropriate.

    I will be interested to hear how others found it

  3. Paul Frijters says:


    I would say someone with at least an undergrad degree in economics who thinks of himself or herself as an economist.


    the best we can hope for is equal abuse from left and from right.

  4. Mark Heydon says:

    Well I guess I am an economist!

  5. Tom N. says:

    I’ll ditto Rob’s comments, although as someone who thinks that there are probably net external costs from additional domestic reproduction (or that, if there are external benefits from more people, they could be more efficiently obtained through immigration), I had no problem answering the middle class welfare question, nor the baby bonus question!
    In addition, I found that

  6. Craig says:

    Mark, an economist can be defined in the same manner as a journalist.

    An economist can be considered anyone who is willing to offer a public opinion on economics (whereas a journalist is anyone willing to offer a public opinion) – regardless of their formal training, associations, professional memberships, paid or unpaid job, views or audience size. Whether membership is limited to the species homo sapiens sapiens is still under debate.

    Ergo all journalists are economists, though all economists are not journalists.

  7. Paul Frijters says:


    I beg to differ. If John Doe offers an opinion on medical matters, does that make him a medic? Or if he offers an opinion about law, does that make him a lawyer? No, because merely having an opinion is not enough to make a medic or a lawyer: there must be some degree of knowledge involved. This is also true of economics, where the knowledge involves a lot of jargon, shared examples, common principles, and shared heuristics. Like medicine and law, it is possible to acquire all that by self-learning and there are those for whom it comes naturally, but this is rare. By and large, the mindset and knowledge involved is attained in formal education.
    There are thus many journalists offering an opinion on economics whom I would classify as definitely not an economist. I still think back in horror at the ‘informed’ opinions some journalists wrote during the mining tax dispute…

  8. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:
  9. murph the surf. says:

    The discussion after the article by Mr Van Onselen raises a few points the well qualified and erudite economists on this site might care to answer.
    The first is about coal exports.
    Apart from miners paying added costs for fuel , power and materials are the tonnes exported going to be charged in any direct manner?
    As an emissions tax I would guess not.
    An example given in comments was about the substitution of a high carbon tax product with a lower carbon tax product.The idea being that the compensation gives the purchaser a choice to buy the lower carbon taxed article as it will become cheaper.
    But doesn’t market activity usually indicate that prices rise to the point of the
    price of the next lowest priced producer? The energy efficient producer may pay less carbon tax but will increase their margin by matching the price the higher carbon tax article asks.
    Thanks for helping out with any answer.

  10. Craig says:

    Hi Paul,

    I would like to agree with you – and in an ideal world it would be easy to place people in boxes with signs on their heads (or at least in some peoples’ ideal worlds – not mine).

    The public also doesn’t have a sound understanding of the boundaries for most professional groups (Doctors may be an exception).

    There’s simply no hard boundaries for most professional groups. I’ve met formally qualified people who know little about their professions, and ‘laypeople’ who are extremely skilled.

    Formal skills defines a method of teaching, not the capability of the pupils.

    Professional membership often defines a financial relationship (and maybe a capability to complete a test), not a topical understanding.

    Sorry my reply goes a little off topic – however as I only have half a formal under-grad degree in Economics (the other half was in other disciples), despite understanding the lingo and the substance and over twenty years reading and discussing the topic, I clearly aren’t qualified to comment as an economist :)

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