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When inflation peaked at 8.9 percent on a year-over-year basis in June 2022, many predicted—or even expected—a recession. However, between August 2022 and August 2023, consumer prices rose only 3.7 percent. The rapid deceleration surprised many, and left even experts wondering why we haven’t yet needed a recession to curb inflation.

Luckily, there are some answers—very accessible ones. That’s thanks to EconoFact, a website that focuses on distilling research into highly readable memos that explain the connections between complex research findings and a range of current economic conditions.

Founded and edited by Michael Klein and published by The Fletcher School’s Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World, the site offers answers to questions like the ones raised by the surprising rapid deceleration of inflation. In that particular case, a recent memo, “Taming Inflation: No Pain, No Gain?” draws on original research to show that expectations of inflation operate differently now from the way they operated during the last big disinflation in the early 1980s. People are now much less likely to think that current inflation will continue in the future, writes Kenneth Kuttner (Williams College). This tempering of expectations helps bring down inflation because, he notes, if inflation is expected to cool rather than continue apace, individuals don’t demand higher wages and prices are set lower.

Klein, the William L. Clayton professor of international economic affairs at The Fletcher School and a former chief economist (from 2010–2011) in the Office of International Affairs of the United States Department of the Treasury, launched the site in 2017, on the heels of the previous year’s presidential election.

“There was a lot of misinformation at the time,” he says. “I thought about what economists could do to help. I was teaching a course where students would translate what they learned about economics into something explainable in memo form—because that’s much more useful in a professional setting than writing a thirty-page academic paper. It struck me that something like that could appeal to a broad audience.”

Helping Readers Make Well-Informed Decisions

EconoFact, consists of several elements. At its core is the collection of memos on specific topics, such as labor markets, inflation, fiscal and tax policies, debt and deficits, climate change, inequality and poverty, and much more. Each memo delineates a specific topic in an accessible, nonpartisan manner, drawing on carefully conducted research, statistics, and economic reasoning.

For example, a recent EconoFact memo, “Addressing Rising U.S. Debt,” by Karen Dynan (Harvard) considers policy changes needed to tame the federal government’s ballooning debt, expected to rise over the next three decades to historically unprecedented levels. The memo lays out the economic and political disadvantages of instituting such policy changes but argues that those changes are necessary for narrowing the federal deficit.

Another memo, “What Explains China’s Economic Slowdown?” by Hanming Fang (Pennsylvania) examines the factors that have contributed to China’s stalling economy, including demographic headwinds that were slowing growth even before the country’s COVID shutdowns, an emerging slowdown in the real estate sector, and a re-emergence of state-led economic policymaking.

The nuances of such issues often get lost in academic jargon or are buried in long articles that aren’t conveniently available or that simply require too much of a time investment, Klein says. “There are a lot of subtle ideas from top researchers that we make accessible,” he adds. “We serve as a bridge for people’s understanding of the economy. Financial professionals, especially, need a deep understanding in order to make well-informed decisions.”

In addition to memos, EconoFact includes a weekly podcast in which Klein interviews top economists and researchers. Recent guests have included Larry Summers, speaking about today’s economic challenges; Binyamin Appelbaum, Scott Horsley, Greg Ip, and Heather Long, speaking about the U.S. economy’s prospects; and Alberto Cavallo discussing insights on inflation from an analysis of more than a billion prices.

The website also offers a video series targeted at students and an educators’ page that curates the website’s contents for economics courses by topic area.

A Reputable Resource

With more than 350 memos (since the site launched in 2017) and an ever-growing number of participating economists, EconoFact has established a loyal following. Klein—along with his team, including editor and Fletcher graduate Miriam Wasserman—keeps tabs on how highly valued the site is. Between September 2021 and the end of November 2023, the group published 77 memos that had more than 2 million views.

Major media outlets—and smaller ones too—rely on the site for information and also as a source of experts who can be interviewed and quoted in articles. A recent CNN article cited Klein in an interview about the value of the dollar, for example. An article in The Washington Post referred to an EconoFact memo about steel tariffs. MarketWatch, Investopedia, and NPR’s Planet Money have all relied upon EconoFact for data and analysis in recent articles and podcasts.

While it’s relatively easy to find references to the website in the media, until recently it’s been difficult to gauge how much politicians rely on it. Then, an intern at EconoFact got a job in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office. “I spoke with the chief of staff there,” Klein says, “and she mentioned how much she appreciates and uses EconoFact.” Klein later learned that politicians’ staffers refer to it regularly, citing it in the analyses they produce because, in his words, “it’s nonpartisan, it’s short, it’s accurate, and it’s useful.”