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Simon Says: Economists agree on many things, including immigration policies

Dr. Simon Medcalfe, AU Economics Professor

The United States (and the Medcalfe household) is deeply divided over many hot topics of the day. For example, should toast be buttered warm or cold? (Correct answer: warm). Should toilet paper go over or under? (Is this really a question of debate – OVER!)

People are often divided on the right way to do things, but economists are surprisingly like-minded.

In economics circles, there is a remarkable consensus among economists about a range of economic matters. A new survey of American Economic Association members ( found no consensus over just one out of 46 propositions. A strong consensus was seen in 15 of the propositions, some of which may surprise you.

For example, 97 percent of economists agree that “immigration generally has a net positive effect on the U.S. economy.” It is certainly not a proposition that garners near-unanimous support amongst politicians and the public.

Economists also moderately disagree with the proposition that “easing restrictions on immigration will depress the average wage rate in the United States.” Although immigrants increase the supply of labor, thereby driving the wage rate down, they also spend money in the U.S. economy, and this has a counterbalancing effect on wages through increased demand.

Economists also strongly agree (86 percent) that “Climate change poses a major risk to the US economy.”

Economists prefer pollution taxes or marketable pollution permits to emission standards to control pollution, and also agree that the benefits of higher taxes on fossil fuels outweigh the short-term economic costs of higher prices. Both solutions are supported by 88 percent of economists.

Eighty-eight percent of economists also agree that “universal health insurance coverage will increase economic welfare in the United States.” The only proposition that failed to garner a consensus was “Changes in aggregate demand affect real Gross Domestic Product in the short run but not in the long run.”

Over 1,700 economists (22 percent response rate) responded to the survey. They did self-identify as 57 percent liberal or very liberal and 42 percent as moderate, leaving 11 percent conservative or very conservative. So as a group, economists are more liberal than the population. They are also white (77 percent) and male (79 percent), a problem that is currently being addressed in the association.

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