Monday, December 10, 2007

Open Letter to the Oregonian

Given what I have written in this blog previously, it should come as no surprise that the front page article in the O about a libertarian critic of Portland's planning should set me off:

Dear Editor,

RE: "Contrarian unabashedly bashes Portland," Page A1, December 10, 2007.

For an ‘economist,’ it is surprising that Mr. O’Toole seems to have forgotten that high prices are a function of both supply and demand. It is not just the relatively slow pace of new homes being built within the urban growth boundary that has led to price escalation; it is also the very strong demand for homes in Portland. It doesn’t take an ‘economist’ to figure out that this strong demand is largely due to the vibrant and livable city that has been engendered by exactly the type of careful planning that Mr. O’Toole decries. Furthermore, Mr. O'Toole's libertarian fantasy has no answer to the externality problem familiar to economics. To wit, if everyone builds homes where they wish, this imposes a cost on everyone else in the community in terms of extra time spent stuck in traffic, money needed for new roads, etc. This is why good planning is good economics.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick Emerson

I did not write this to the editors, but it alarms me, as an economist (not by self-description but by the fact that I hold a PhD in economics), that the Oregonian would describe someone as an economist simply because they say they are. I think the Oregonian should have an editorial policy that requires some kind of credential or degree in order to label someone an ‘economist’. I took a biology class once, can I call myself a biologist and be thus described in the pages of the Oregonian? I shouldn’t think so. This is not just a question of semantics but a serious reportorial issue. Readers need to be able to judge and weight opinions based on the qualifications of those that express them. Saying that he does not hold a degree in economics in the last quarter of the article is not good enough.

That said, if someone is making money as an 'economist' perhaps they are a 'professional' economist and it doesn't matter. If I started a business as a biological consultant and I could find someone silly enough to hire me, does that make me a biologist? Or if the Cato institute hired me and gave me the label of 'biologist' would that suffice?

Anyone know the O's editorial policy on professional labels?

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