The big policy divide

Date posted: August 6, 2013

When people look at disagreements among our elected leaders — whether it’s over the federal budget or state taxes — many like to say the arguments are all about politics. Mary Walden asks her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden whether he agrees of if he thinks there are other elements to the debates.

His response:

“Well, as an economist — and I’ve been doing this, as you know, for 35 years as a professional economist — I certainly don’t deny that politics can often be an element in these economic debates and these policy debates. But on the other hand … I do think that there are some fundamental differences in what economists value that also drives the debate, and I think the big overriding debate between economists, and when you look at the economy and economic policy, is between what we call between promoting efficiency versus promoting equity.

“Those economists who promote efficiency say that we always want to strive to use our resources more efficiently, better to promote economic growth. So, the focus is on really making the economic pie bigger.

“Economists who focus more on equity are … certainly worried about the size of the pie, but they’re perhaps more worried about the slices of the pie — who gets what slice and are the slices being equitably divided between various groups in society?

“So, I think that’s really the driving difference, policy differences that then, of course, manifest themselves into politics between economists and which obviously get carried forth to many, many debates that we have about economic and public policy.”

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