Posted by: Dirk | April 17, 2012

Economists in the media: New York Times edition

This is how the NY Times of today starts an article on income inequality:

WASHINGTON — High earners who are worried that this year’s Tax Day will be the last one before their rates rise have more than just the White House and Washington to blame. They can also look to two academically revered, if publicly obscure, left-leaning French economists whose work is the subtext for the battle over tax fairness.

What I find strange is that the authors are described as “publicly obscure, left-leaning French economists”. The NY Times, whether they know it or not, is leading its readers into a trap. The name of that trap is called ‘halo effect’. I know this because coincidentally I just read Daniel Kahneman’s new book in the metro this morning and on page 82 he asks:

What do you think of Alan and Ben?

Alan: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious

Ben: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent

If you are like most of us, you viewed Alan much more favorably than Ben. The initial traits in the list change the very meaning of the traits that appear later.

So, starting an article about two economists by calling them “publicly obscure, left-leaning French economists” sets its readers on a track that is not even abandoned when the author later adds more information about the authors:

Mr. Saez, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has won the John Bates Clark Medal, an economic laurel considered second only to the Nobel, as well as a MacArthur Fellowship grant. Mr. Piketty, 40, of the Paris School of Economics, has won Le Monde’s prize for best young economist, among other awards.

I have never read about right-leaning economists in the NY Times either. The media should report facts, and not mislead the public through biased reporting. This should be a case for Berkeley’s Brad DeLong. Brad, do you copy?

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