EconoFact: Bringing Facts and Data to Policy Debates

EconoFact is a non-partisan publication, online starting today, designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies. It is written by leading academic economists from across the country who belong to the EconoFact Network, and published by the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. The co-editors are Michael Klein and Edward Schumacher-Matos.

Inaugural memos tackle Trump’s promise to bring back manufacturing jobs, the prospects for the big, beautiful wall, charter schools, the destination based border tax, whether the trade deficit is a drag on growth, and whether China is now manipulating its currency.

Here is a graph from the Chinn-Klein memo on trade deficits:

New memos will appear as conditions and proposals warrant.

Memos Currently Online

  • Will Manufacturing Jobs Come Back? David Deming, Graduate School of Education and Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
  • Is the Trade Deficit a Drag on Growth? Menzie D. Chinn, Robert M. La Follette School, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michael W. Klein, Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • House GOP Plan Aims to Boost Competitiveness, May Also Violate International Trade Laws Joel P. Trachtman, Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Is China a Currency Manipulator? Michael W. Klein, Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Should the United States Build a Wall on the Mexican Border to Reduce Unauthorized Immigration? Jennifer Hunt, Rutgers University
  • Charter Schools: The Michigan Experience and the Limited Federal Role Nora Gordon, McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University

Twitter: @EconoFactOrg

18 thoughts on “EconoFact: Bringing Facts and Data to Policy Debates

  1. Bruce Hall

    An interesting “graphic novel” approach to economic analysis and relevant policy issues. What might be even more interesting to readers would be a commentary discussion among the “network” members… pros, cons, caveats. In other words, less than “peer reviewed publications” and more than “layman explanations”… a forum for discussion by the best and brightest.

    For example, it might be interesting to see if there was 100% agreement that there is no way in increase manufacturing jobs to any significant degree regardless of the policy, regulation, or taxation environment… and if there is disagreement, what and why.

  2. Rick Stryker


    “Econofact” seems to be the academic analog of mainstream media “fact checkers,” wrapping opposition to conservative policies in the penumbra of “facts” and “non-partisan objective analysis.” The tell is of course that the “non-partisan” and “incisive” analysis all seem to attack Trump’s polices. In the progressive world, there are some key “facts” and then policy analysis that follows objectively and naturally. (Krugman’s ontological proof for the existence of Obamacare is a classic example.) In the real world in which conservatives also exist, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.

    Just to take one example, consider Jennifer Hunt’s “Should the United States Build a Wall on the Mexican Border to Reduce Unauthorized Immigration?” Essentially, Hunt is arguing that because a large percentage (as many as 45%) of the undocumented immigrants have overstayed their visas, implementing the tracking system mandated by Congress to track entry and exit of foreign nationals would be a much more cost effective way to manage the problem than building a wall on the Southern border. How would a Trump supporter answer this?

    The Trump supporter would say, sure, Trump has already said he’s for completing the tracking system. The Trump supporter would point out that Congress mandated the development of an entry and exit system in 1996 and the development of an automated biometric entry and exit system in 2004. And yet, the Trump supporter would point out, those systems are still not completed. The GAO has criticized DHS for not fully developing these systems, most recently in January 2016. Why have they not been fully developed? The Trump supporter would point to Trump’s inaugural yesterday in which he said “Washington politicians are all talk and no action.”

    That these systems have not been fully developed implies important caveats to the “facts” that Hunt cites. The visa overstay rate of up to 45% relies on old estimates and a methodology that goes back to 1997. The government has not regularly reported overstay rates since 1994 and the GAO found that DHS can’t report accurate overstay rates as required by statute since they don’t have an accurate and complete entry and exit system, also long required by statute. It could well be the case that the percent of visa overstays is much smaller than 45%. We really don’t know.

    Moreover, as I already pointed out, the Trump supporter would say there is a new sheriff in town and that the entry and exit system will be completed. But that solves only part of the problem. Let’s say for the sake of argument that 40% of the undocumented immigrant population is comprised of visa overstays. The numbers we have, although not very precise, suggest that most of the remaining 60% that are not visa overstays come from Mexico and other Latin American countries. What do we do about that? Completing the entry and exit system won’t solve the problem. The Trump supporter would say “Build that Wall.” I don’t see that Hunt has made much of an argument against this. If not the wall, then what is the alternative policy?

    I’m not trying to single Hunt out. I’ve discussed her contribution because she’s tackled a particularly tough and controversial issue. I’d just suggest two things: 1) don’t assume that Trump’s supporters are so naive to believe that the econofact network’s anti-Trump web site is a non-partisan, objective look at the facts; and 2) since they won’t believe that, you guys will have to raise the quality of your arguments.

    1. jjhman

      Rick Stryker:

      Although I am vigorously opposed to everything taht Trump stands for I applaud your counter argruments and agree that we need more of this kind of analysis and open minded discussion.

      I hope to hear more from you on this site!


      1. Rick Stryker


        Thanks very much for your kind words. I comment somewhat frequently on this site actually (when I have time.)

        I do agree that we need to have real debates about these issues. Unfortunately, these controversies seem to degenerate into name-calling all to often. I would be interested in your comments on why you oppose Trump too.

    2. 2slugbaits

      Rick Stryker Nice try. Now, let’s get real. First, “Econofacts” is something that stands in opposition to Team Trump’s “alternative facts.” Second, you didn’t actually dispute Hunt’s fact, which is about the stability of undocumented immigrants. How exactly does the “fact” that the visa systems have not been developed “caveat” the fact that undocumented immigration has stayed level? It doesn’t. You’re simply trying to throw in a red herring argument in hopes that inattentive readers will think you’ve managed to debunk “Econofact.”

      To the extent that Hunt is making an implied policy recommendation based on facts, the policy implication is simply that focusing attention on building a “wall” is unlikely to pass any sane cost/benefit analysis because not very many people are actually entering the country from our southern border. The “wall” is an answer to a non-problem. You get the most bang for the buck by finishing the visa monitoring program. Every dollar spent on the “wall” is a dollar not spent on visa monitoring. Hunt is making an opportunity cost argument. Are you familiar with those?

      Here are a few other facts that your Trump supporter should note:

      (1) The visa tracking system isn’t the only thing that was mandated by Congress 20 years ago. So was the “wall.” There are reasons why neither of them have been funded by any Congress, Democrat or Republican. Those reasons haven’t changed even if there is a new sheriff in town.

      (2) Not unrelated is the additional fact that only 6% of REPUBLICANs believe the “wall” should be the new sheriff’s top priority. In fact, it’s pretty far down the priority list according to a 19 Jan 2017 Fox News poll. So how likely is it that the new sheriff with the attention span of a goldfish will even want to be bothered with the nitty, gritty business of building a wall?

      Finally, everyone on this side of the aisle is quite certain that Trump supporters will view “Econofact” as anti-Trump, but that should not condemn the rest of us to a life of ignorance. I recognize that Trump supporters are beyond hope, but still, facts are facts. Raising the quality of our arguments is always a good thing, but I doubt that higher quality arguments will resonate with people who believe in “birther” chatter; believe that professional wrestling is real; believe that Adam and Eve rode around on the backs of dinosaurs; and believe that some preacher in a megachurch can heal the sick and make the lame walk. And then there’s that famous Trump supporter who told NPR that there was more freedom in Russia under Putin than in the US because Moscow had more Christmas trees than Minnesota. (I’m serious!) Those are the same folks who won’t believe “Econofacts.” Trump supporters are unlikely to skip tonight’s monster truck rally in favor of reading “Econofact.”

      1. Bruce Hall

        2slug, I believe what Rick was saying was that in the absence of any tracking system, much less one for illegals which doesn’t exist, the magnitude of the issue is impossible to know. The assertion is that the number of people illegally in the U.S. has remained static or declined, yet there is scant evidence of that. However, if you have a source that is keeping track of illegals, I’m sure Trump’s administration is interested.

        My first read on EconoFact was about charter schools. Since Michigan was singled out and I have been following that issue here in Michigan, I wrote to the author and provided a wealth of database references (online) regarding funding, performance, and corrective actions for both public and charter schools. Part of the reply:

        “I had aimed for the piece to emphasize the highly varied state policy environments for charters, and you rightly point out variance within states as well. The Detroit case is a fascinating one and I am glad to learn more about it.”

        My point being that while the generalizations tended toward correct, they were not necessarily accurate upon more detailed examination.

    3. DeDude

      Implementing a system to clearly document that a person has overstayed their visa is not going to solve the problem that they overstayed. Nor is the wall going to prevent people from entering the US illegally. The higher the wall the bigger the ladders sold on the other side of the wall (or the tunnels underneath it). Just like with drug smuggling; if you really want to get rid of it you have to kill the demand. It is simple and easy to make a system that require documented identity of anybody who get a job, and combine it with harsh punishment for those who fail to do so. That would be very effective in blocking illegal immigration. The fact that Trump instead peddles a xenophobic populist “solution” that predictably will have little effect suggest that he is not after a solution – he is just after the political benefits.

  3. Erik Poole

    Bruce Hall: Once upon a time, I was a volunteer community organizer for the United Farm Workers of America AFL/CIO in Arizona. A ‘snowback’ or ‘nevado’. Chicano farm workers loved the description. Wet backs — illegal migrant farm workers — were too scared silly to sit long enough for a discussion.

    Well, we all know what happened when farm worker wages in California started going above US$7/hour back in the 1980s. Californian farms responded with mechanization and the glut of farm workers increased.

    Here in British Columbia, the forest industry was the mainstay of employment in the interior and a the big source of provincial revenues. Between new supply in southern USA, Finland, southern Chile and mechanization, that is no longer the case. But it is an attractive sector for politicians because of the relatively large number of semi-skilled workers the sector hires. That attractiveness lead to boom ‘n bust in the sector and I often wonder if the province ended up subsidizing the sector if a proper cost-benefit study were conducted. Politicians are often vote maximizers, not social wealth maximizers.

    US manufacturing is similar. The sector produces more than ever before yet thanks to increased atomization, the job creation potential has diminished considerably.

    But like you I welcome this initiative because of all the unanswered questions I have, such as:

    1. What is ratio of new design and marketing jobs relative to new manufacturing assembly line jobs?

    2. How well did Mussolini do with his brand of corporatism or corporate fascism?

    When the President-elect started badgering American companies investing in manufacturing capacity in Mexico, I was immediately reminded of the Mussolini regime but thought nobody else would get the connection until bond manager Bill Gross came out and drew the same connection. Gross went on to suggest that investors should move to cash and that the Trump rally was overbought.

    If Mussolini did manage to increase jobs and raise Italian living standards, then this would be good to know.

    Let us not leave these debates to ideology or narcissistic position politics. What are the facts? Perhaps this bold economic experiment will indeed make America Great Again? One tweet at a time.

  4. Jeffrey J. Brown

    One of the challenges facing comedians and satire sites, like The Onion, in regard to the Trump campaign and now the Trump Administration, is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with satirical headlines/stories, given the reality of what is coming out of Trumpland.

  5. dwb

    Econofact is pretty transparently one sided, and it only took me two posts to get there. Any post starting with the word “Should” is transparently partisan and one-sided.

    If one is going to tackle controversial issues in a non-partisan manner, it’s much better to have an “advocates say” and “critics say” debate-style format. One should always start with the assumption people are adults, not naive, can think for themselves, and spot flaws. If you do not start there, then it’s just more noise in an echo chamber.

    People, especially Trump supporters, are going to outright reject and ignore anything that smells like or contains “can’t do that” “never going to happen” and posts including the word “should.” The Mythbusters approach is far more persuasive: Don’t tell me it can’t be done, tell me what it would take to get done, and how much the cost (in the case of Mythbusters, how much C-4).

    For example, maybe manufacturing jobs can come back, if we roll back environmental and safety regulations to 1940s-level where you could not even breathe in a steel town. Economists are obsessed with robots, but people can see that foreign steel is not being made with robots, and the job losses in coal mines since 2008 are not because robots took over. Please stop obsessing over robots and technology.

    Judging by the quality of the posts so far, I’d say that the audience for the econofact consist of people already convinced of the theme. So far it seems like more noise in the echo chamber.

    1. baffling

      “For example, maybe manufacturing jobs can come back, if we roll back environmental and safety regulations to 1940s-level where you could not even breathe in a steel town. ”

      you have some fair comments. but now the trump supporters are presented with the pictures out of beijing, noontime, with so much pollution that it looks like night. this air pollution is caused by the poor pollution regulation and enforcement of chinese industry-much of it coal and steel driven. do the trump supporters acknowledge the problems with this industrial pollution, and put the knowledge to use? or do they ignore these facts on the ground, and proceed to use their ‘alternative facts’?

        1. baffling

          corev, the primary cause of air pollution in london is NOx, caused in large part by diesel. remember the volkswagen emissions cheat? there are ramifications for such action. london has some of the worst NOx in the world. much of it due to vehicles violating emissions standards. and excessive wood burning is a problem. you cannot pump more carbon residue into the environment and not expect a poor outcome. wood burning would not be considered cheap if the users were actually charged for the pollution and damage they create. currently the wood burners are given a subsidy. that should be eliminated.

          1. Corev

            Baffled, there you go again with your alternative facts. VW diesels caused the London air pollution, and also caused by excessive wood burning. But your most obvious alternative fact is London has some of the worst NOx in the world. Really? Care to show us that link.

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