Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Beacon of Manhood: Scott Adams

In the mid-nineties, if you were paying anything that resembled attention, you learned to appreciate the genius that was Dilbert. Capitolizing on the growing cubicle-discontent that also spawned the terrific Office Space and eventually led to today's British and American versions of The Office, Dilbert-creator Scott Adams poked fun at corporate culture, management incompetence (not that, as The Common Man peruses today's financial news, any of them has learned a damn thing since then), consumer greediness, and the willful ignorance of the masses. Dilbert's popularity culminated in a two-season run on the UPN as an animated series (which, The Common Man supposes, qualifies it as a success on that network), voiced by Daniel Stern, Chris Elliot, and Kathy Griffin, from 1999-2000. Dilbert motors on today, enjoying slightly less cultural cache, but still earning its creator millions upon millions of dollars. The lucky and talented bastard.

But Adams, to his credit, is not content to simply swim through his cash a la Scrooge McDuck. Partly out of curiosity, and partly out of frustration, Adams has put his money to work for the rest of America. In a commentary for, Adams writes, "This summer I found myself wishing someone would give voters useful and unbiased information about which candidate has the best plans for the economy. Then I realized that I am someone, which is both inconvenient and expensive. So for once I asked not what my country could do for me." And so, Adams privately funded his own survey of (500) economists at the non-partisan American Economic Association to see who economists believe has the better plan for restoring the American economy to its former strength and vitality.

Like any good political surveyer, Adams is up front and honest about his biases, claiming that he leans libertarian on many social issues, won't vote for candidates who promise to raise taxes in his income bracket, and is uninspired by John McCain. His findings are intersting. Economists tend to break down on party lines in their answers, with 88 percent of Democrats supporting Obama's policies, and 80 percent of Republicans supporting McCain's. Economists who identify themselves as independents (27 percent of the total), break for Obama by 46 percent to 39 percent (presumably with 23 percent claiming there would be no substantive difference between the candidate's plans, as far as the future of the U.S. economy is concerned). The most important economic issues facing the U.S. going forward, according to these 500 economists, are (in order) education, health care, international trade, and energy.

So, are these economists right? As Adams points out, it probably impossible for them to predict, with any degree of certainty, just what will happen to the U.S. economy in coming years, let alone six months. "In my view," he writes, "if an economist uses a complicated model to predict just about anything, you can ignore it." However, just because uncertainty is an inherent part of any model doesn't mean that economists' suggestions and opinions aren't important. Indeed, as Adams puts it, "if a doctor tells you to eat less and exercise more, that's good advice even if you later get hit by a bus."

So, thanks are in order to Scott Adams for his efforts. His survey results may have faults (for instance, there's no way to tell from the data exactly what the degree of bias is of the economists, or how their choice of profession informs their beliefs), and may not be an accurate prediction of what will if Obama or McCain is elected this November, but his results are interesting, easy to comprehend, and show a remarkable dedication to public service and self-sacrifice. Scott Adams did what many Americans don't do: what he can. Simply because he can do more than others doesn't make his contributions any more or less impressive. They are impressive on their own. So, this week, The Common Man awards his Beacon of Manhood to Scott Adams and, again, thanks him for his efforts and for providing an excellent example to the rest of the country.

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