Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Wednesday, December 17, 2003  

Two weighty economic declarations you might like to consider. First, Max Sawicky distinguishes between "liberal" and "leftist" economic views among bloggers (this in response to Matt Yglesias's meditation on whether the blogoshpere is itself slanted right or left). His description is fairly partisan, but his view holds water.

In general what should be called left v. liberal in economics comes down to market intervention. Liberals support tax and transfer policies and public spending but (relatively speaking) shy away from market regulation, especially in the realm of trade. Liberals think you should balance the budget over the business cycle, uphold a minimum wage, expand environmental protection, and absolutely leave trade alone. They also think you should let the Federal Reserve do whatever it likes, to preserve its "independence" (sic) from politics. For liberals, labor is just another "interest group" -- something to superintend and care for, given the limits implied by fiscal moderation, free trade, and Fed supremacy....

The constructive leftist is amenable to deficit finance, as long as debt does not grow too fast. She is more amenable to regulation and a European-style public sector (i.e., 40 percent of GDP, rather than less than 30% as in the US). She would like to incorporate social clauses on human and labor rights and environmental standards into trade agreements. She would like to restructure the Fed towards democratic norms. She looks to labor for industrial action in defense of economic justice, not obedience to Democratic Party orthodoxy....

The left is criticized for favoring "equality of result" rather than opportunity. The implication is that those so favored are undeserving, unqualified. This assumption is used to prove itself, in rebuttal to actual demographic data on qualifications. A fair selection process for jobs or other opportunities would roughly conform to demographics (including factors going to qualifications, such as education). When results are observed that diverge radically from what we could expect, there is a case for government intervention. Fairness or its lack derives from where the power to control selection is.

I don't want you to think this is a fair summation of Max's point--it's not. It is one of the best posts I've read there, so do yourself a favor and go read it.

Next we turn to Crooked Timber, where Dan Davies argues that econ ain't science, it's rhetoric. A hotly-contested point, as you might imagine.

The point is this; economics is, as Deirdre McCloskey points out regularly, a form of rhetoric. At its heart, it is and has always been about the construction of a certain kind of argument, which is meant to be persuasive over human action. I state this without argument, in the knowledge that many people at work in the field believe that they are involved in a project of genuine scientific enquiry. I feel no argument of mine is ever going to carry the day on this issue, so if anyone wants to make the case for economics as a science, I’ll simply respond thus: "Sir, I gracefully concede that you yourself and your department are engaged in a value-neutral quest for scientific facts about the allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. I apologise for having suggested otherwise. But would you at least grant me that the description 'A form of rhetoric … the construction of arguments aimed to be persuasive over human action' is a decent description of what all those other bastards are up to?"

Brad DeLong, criticized in the article, rebuts.

posted by Jeff | 12:45 PM |
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