Efficient Economist’s Pledge

Tuesday’s debate with Bryan Caplan was great fun; thanks Bryan for being such a gentlemanly and compatible discussion partner!  I don’t know when an official vid will be posted, but my amateur audio is here.  In before and after audience polls, Liberty vs. Efficiency got 42-10 before, and 25-20 after.  My argument and Bryan’s many responses inspired me to compose this pledge:

The Efficient Economist’s Pledge

I pledge to be an efficient economist, who helps clients find win-win deals to resolve social conflicts.

I need not accept all clients, but for the clients I do accept, my suggested deals should, if accepted straight or as a starting point for negotiation, get them more of what they want, relative to no deal.  I resist temptations to slant my advice to give hidden benefits to myself or my associates.  I accept my client’s situation and wants as they are, and unless asked do not preach to them on what they should want.  When actions conflict with words, I mostly infer wants from actions, and avoid needlessly exposing contradictions.

For individual clients, I suggest actions that try to best get them what they want. When I advise groups of clients together, I seek win-win deals for them all together.  That is, I seek ways to suggest deals with a high chance of putting each client in a situation where, given their limited info, they should expect to benefit from the resulting deals. And I seek the best deals; it should not be easy to find other deals which all should expect to get them even more.  When trading client expected gains against the chance each expects to gain, I consider how many are needed to clinch a deal.

I keep my clients aware of the benefits of making inclusive, early, and big deals.  Deals including more interacting parties can resolve more conflicts.  Early deals can avoid complicating private info and extreme outcomes.  Big deals have portfolio benefits; while every deal contains “efficiency” aspects, regarding the size of the pie, and “distributive” aspects, regarding how the pie is divided, distributive problems tend to cancel as deals are combined across diverse topics.  These cancellations lower costs of compensating transfers, allow more confidence that each party benefits, and let us focus on (inclusive early big deal) efficiency issues, where economists are strongest.  In the limit, efficiency alone may ensure that deals are win-win.

I volunteer honest assessments of the uncertainty in my advice, and of my and our track records for achieving this pledge’s ideals. If clients should expect to do as well by following simple deal heuristics, I tell them so.  And I am open to credible criticism suggesting pride or affiliation slants my advice; if we all saw all of us as reasonable, we would not knowingly disagree about what deals benefit whom how much.

I not only keep this pledge, I join with other efficient economists to credibly signal to clients that we keep it.  We make these pledges publicly, and we practice, develop, and monitor compliance with common standards that can reassure clients that we minimize the scope for corruptible personal discretion.  These standards include deal-evaluation criteria as well as standard assumptions and formats for models and data analysis.  I practice these standards, help develop better ones, call client attention to visible violations, and punish hidden violations.

We seek deserved reputations for achieving these ideals, and jealously preserve reputations when acquired.  We are delighted to have clients seeking our advice mainly to claim to others that our advice influenced them, but only if they do not misrepresent this influence.

I pledge to be an efficient economist, who loves his clients by finding them win-win deals. If loving this way is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

In the debate, Bryan was unwilling to sign any joint statement by economists that differed in any detail from his own best guess, and he saw no need to  consult others on what policies to favor, so he saw no advantages to consulting a group which had bound themselves to a rule in order to be more trustworthy as “neutral expert arbiters.”

Who is willing to join me in taking this pledge?  Even if you will not join, can you see any advantages from being able to get advice from people who do so pledge?

Reworded noon 18Apr.

Added 6Dec: I name this point of view “dealism.”

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