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MIT Sloan Throughout the Crisis: Leading the Conversation (continued)

Simon JohnsonSimon Johnson has testified before Senate Budget Committee and Joint Economic Committee.

One of the purposes of the blog is to influence policy, he says, but to do so in a more measured and diplomatic way than mainstream media often allows. “If you want to change people’s minds,” Johnson explains, “the best thing to do is not to shout at them, but to politely and firmly pursue a line which is contrary to what they are doing and hope eventually to bring them along with you.” The blog, he says, has been a great tool for this end largely because the public and journalists alike can sense they are being given an unvarnished view of the world. “We use the blog as a means to craft a message while being very explicit about how the message changes over time,” he notes. “We try to be very honest with ourselves. Every six weeks, we put out The Baseline Scenario, which is our big, integrated view of the world, and the posts in between consist of our updates, validations, or changes to that baseline. And journalists like that kind of honesty.”

Over the past 20 years, as an academic, a policymaker, and while working in the private sector as well, Johnson has built a reputation as one of the world’s foremost crisis experts. In 2000 - 2001, he was a member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Advisory Committee on Market Information. He has worked with many leading research organizations and has helped in the struggle for crisis prevention and recovery in countries both rich and poor. From March 2007 through the end of August 2008, Johnson was chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where he helped formulate responses to worldwide financial turmoil. So it seemed only natural, as the financial situation in the United States continued to grow increasingly dire, that his voice would rise to the top of the ensuing discussion and debate.

But perhaps more important is the fact that Baselinescenario.com is also a valuable educational tool for the general public, allowing access to the kind of timely knowledge and information that is so crucial to maintaining a stable economy. Included on the main page of Baselinescenario.com is a section entitled “Financial Crisis For Beginners,” which provides less informed readers, or even experts who just want to brush up on their facts, with a wealth of information about the state of the world economy. Likewise the section entitled “For The Classroom” gives resources and materials for teachers at all levels to utilize in their own classrooms. All of this, Johnson says, helps lay the foundation for a more transparent and stable economy. “One thing that we do well at MIT Sloan,” Johnson says, “is take expert opinion and put it in terms that non experts can not only understand but also relate to. My goal in all my teaching is to talk about economics without drawing supply and demand graphs on the blackboard or relying on mathematics. So, in a sense, that is a natural preparation for this role we are now playing, which is somewhere between public educators and advocates for what we regard as sensible policies.”

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