A Go-To Source for Economic Explainers

EconoFact, led by Fletcher professor Michael Klein, gathers experts to explain a wide range of economic topics for the general public

The news is filled with stories about the economy: inflation, employment, stock prices, national debt. But economics is about more than just those standard topics—it’s also intimately involved with analyzing everything from immigration to health care to gender and racial issues and even birth rates.

For people looking for unbiased explanations of current events and their economic implications, Tufts has been hosting a go-to site for the past seven years—EconoFact, run by Michael Klein, a professor of international economics at The Fletcher School. With a roster of some 140 experts around the country who write “memos” detailing a wide range of issues, it is an increasingly popular source for objective information.

Klein started EconoFact in early 2017 in response to the selective use of facts in the 2016 elections. Initially working with a small number of economics colleagues, the site began by distilling the current state of knowledge about topics like international trade, manufacturing jobs, and the use of government benefits by immigrants.

Now the roster of experts is much larger. “We enable world experts in a lot of different fields to easily reach out to the public,” says Klein.

Portrait of Michael Klein

“We enable world experts in a lot of different fields to easily reach out to the public,” says Michael Klein.

In addition to the memos, EconoFact produces a podcast series and educational videos. In the podcasts, Klein interviews a variety of experts about timely topics. He’s had two Nobel laureates on as well as members of the Council of Economic Advisors, who advise the U.S. president, from both Republican and Democratic administrations. About four times a year he hosts a panel of four journalists from the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal to talk economics. In late May he interviewed the chief economist of the European Central Bank.

The EF Explains video series—short videos on key economic issues and concepts aimed at high school and college students—has covered topics like hunger, unionization, and debt and deficits.

EconoFact memos have been cited in leading media outlets, and its content is reposted by the widely read MarketWatch site and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s educational site called Econ Lowdown.

Klein, who teaches macroeconomics, international macroeconomics, and the practice of economic policy, among other classes, had an active research career prior to launching EconoFact. While his work as Econofact’s executive editor has kept him from working on original scholarly research, he says he is “gratified to use my research, writing, teaching, and policy experience in EconoFact to reach a wide audience with top-flight, yet accessible, economic analyses.”   

 “I’ve loved doing this over these last seven years and feel very fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to make an impact,” Klein says. “It’s broadened my understanding of economics in a really satisfying way.”

EconoFact is a nonprofit and runs on donations from foundations and individuals. It has two staffers—a managing editor and a deputy managing editor, both of whom are Fletcher alumni—plus Tufts student interns, who have made valuable contributions, too, Klein says. Some of them have gone on to do graduate work in economics and public policy.

“I don’t get paid anything for running EconoFact, but we still have the expenses of paying our interns and staff editors, of the maintenance of the webpage and for creating the podcasts and videos,” says Klein. “I’ve tried to think about ways to become self-sustaining,” he adds, but charging readers would be at odds with his goal to have EconoFact be as widely available as possible.

Like Klein, the contributors don’t get paid. “I try to take them out for a beer or lunch if they’re in the area,” he says with a laugh. “People do it out of a sense of civic engagement.” It’s also a good way for some more junior academics to get public exposure. EconoFact’s contributors are often approached by the media “and have their ideas circulating in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

EconoFact is an especially good fit with Tufts, Klein says. “Tufts is about civic engagement, and this is definitely civic engagement,” he notes. “At Tufts, there’s a lot of talk about bridging the divide between academia and the public and policy. And that’s exactly what we do at EconoFact.”

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