Monday, June 18, 2012

On being a liberal economics blogger


To tribe or not to tribe? That is the question.

I don't get much of a kick out of being an iconoclast. It does not make me feel smug or special or superior to "buck my own team" - to disagree or argue with people who agree with me most of the time. Neither do I feel any particular need to be a "maverick" or a "sensible centrist", or to burnish my moderate credentials with "Sister Souljah moments". I do not crave invitations to Beltway cocktail parties reserved for journalists who cry "a pox on both houses". I don't like cocktails, and I only know the Beltway is a highway because I just Googled it.

In fact, it's nice to have a team. When the sneering RBC loyalists or ravening libertarian hordes show up in my comment threads to tell me what a crappy economist and crappy person and moron I am, it is nice to see them get jumped by an army of left-leaning commenters. It's nice to think that my decidedly anti-status-quo ideas about much of economics (especially macro) are going to win instant sympathy among those who think that the currently dominant paradigm produces too much inequality and unfairness.

I'm a "liberal economics blogger". I guess. Meaning A) I'm a liberal, and B) I'm an economics blogger. But also meaning that I stick up for Paul Krugman, and that I spend a lot of my time on this blog criticizing the dominant paradigm in economics, which currently is a conservative paradigm.

And yet sometimes I come out and say things like "internal devaluation can work over the long term". Or that we would benefit by admitting more high-skilled immigrants (Isn't that a supply-side measure? Aren't supply-side measures something the conservative team is supposed to like?). Or say "carbon taxes won't work". Or pat libertarians on the back for talking about public goods. Or admit that I really have no idea if fiscal stimulus is worth the cost.

This inevitably makes my "team" kind of mad. I get comments saying "Noah, what you don't realize is that the Koch-funded neoliberal conspiracy is destroying our nation and if you don't spend every post calling out those corrupt plutocratic scumbags, you're part of the problem!!"

When I see comments like that, I do not smile to myself and think "Ho ho, look how moderate and sensible I am! If I'm getting criticized by both extremes, I must be doing something right!" I am not Joe Klein.

But yet I say those things anyway. Why? Because as nice as it is to have a team, I have a stronger and deeper allegiance, which is to science. And by "science" I basically mean rational skeptical empiricism. My dad raised me on these ideas; they're very important to me, and I believe they are the best. So if I think an idea makes sense, I'm going to say why. If I don't buy a theory, I'm going to say I don't buy it. I believe that only by being intellectually honest can we find the best answers and the best policies.

Now here you may cross your arms and say "Economics isn't a science! Hrmph!" But if so, you're missing the point, which is that it can be a science and (according to Noah Smith's value system) it should be a science, and when it's not a science that's bad.

In fact, I think that politicization is a big problem - maybe the big problem - with economics. People believe theories not because the evidence solidly supports those theories, but because the policy implications support the goals of their tribe. Some people like RBC models not because they look out the window and see technology shocks, but because RBC models say that small government is good. Some people disbelieve in externalities just because they think the First Welfare Theorem will reduce their tax bill. Some people believe in the signaling model of education because they think college turns young people into communists. And so on. The list of top economists who publicly subscribe to standard Republican narratives of reality is long, long, long.

I get the sense that this is true on the "left" as well. Some people seem to (mistakenly) think of Keynesian stimulus as a kind of welfare-based redistribution scheme - or just as something involving government that conservatives hate, and therefore good. Some people consider immigration to be a globalist neoliberal plot, simply because it'll adversely impact their own relative wages.

In fact, it is increasingly clear to me that the vast majority of people in the world, including the vast majority of smart people and educated people and well-informed people, subscribe to tribal "knowledge" over actual knowledge.

Whatever. I can't jump on that boat. It would be nice to have an army at my back, but I can never betray science. My ideas may be wrong, or I may misapprehend the evidence, and that's fine - I try never to be too certain that I'm right. But I just can't bring myself to misrepresent my honest intellectual thought on a science-related topic just to appease the folks who are supposed to be on my "team".

I mean, come on, people. Why do you think "conservative economics" went off the rails in the first place? Was it because it was conservative, and conservatism is bad and liberalism is good? Many people are probably nodding their heads. Well, maybe that's why. But my money is on another explanation. I think that when economists who were conservative became "conservative economists" - when they let  their normative ideas guide their positive ideas - they allowed themselves to stop going by the evidence. And that diluted the quality of their theories, which is why there is such ample low-hanging fruit for liberal criticism of economics in this day and age.

I'm not going to do that. I like having a gang, but science has got to come first. If that gets me some angry comments, so be it. As Feynman said: "If we take everything into account, not only what the ancients knew, but all of what we know today that they didn't know, then I think we must frankly admit that we do not know. But in admitting this, we have probably found the open channel."

68 comments:

  1. Stephen Bank12:54 AM

    ...And all that is why I check this blog often enough to be commenting right now.

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  2. Paul Andrews2:46 AM

    A laudable goal.

    Unfortunately in a field as complex as economics we are forced to rely on beliefs to a large degree. The trick is to try to base those beliefs on something other than politics. I'm not sure any of us can claim to have achieved that completely, although it certainly is possible to a degree.

    One of the fundamental problems facing economics is the proliferation of models that ignore the role of debt. It is my belief that debt has been left out of nearly all models due to politics. It doesn't suit people with Keynesian or Monetarist beliefs to include debt because the long term accumulation of debt is the achilles heel of Keynesianism and Monetarism. And those who seek to deviate from this approach find it much more difficult to obtain funding - another political impingement on scientific progress.

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    1. Anonymous3:46 AM

      huh? How is this true at all? What do you have in mind here, and could you provide some examples? I'm having a hard time thinking about a macro model which doesn't allow agents to borrow and save.. let alone the numerous papers which study the implications in imperfections in credit markets.

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    2. Paul Andrews5:29 AM

      Yes - lots of saving and borrowing, often in goods rather than money. When money is included its often only a fiat monetary base exchanged by the government for goods, with no banking sector and therefore no deposits created by lending, no M1, M2, M3. No shadow banking sector etc.

      Refer to this BIS summary on fiscal dominance from December 2011: http://www.bis.org/publ/bppdf/bispap65.pdf

      A quote: "Starting with financial intermediation, recall that banks play no role whatsoever in macroeconomic models of the pre-crisis era. These traditional models are based on the distinction between nominal and real quantities, and there are interest rates. But the only friction is the one associated with nominal price changes, so inflation and inflation control become the focus. (If it is costly to change prices, inflation creates a deadweight loss.) And, since the model is devoid of banks, there is no private debt. As I suggested at the beginning, the macroeconomic models of the future, with their added focus on financial linkages, need to have a rationale for debt as distinct from equity. We need to understand why the predominant financial contract is a loan or a bond rather than equity. In fact, we need a clear understanding of the optimal debt/equity ratio for the economy as a whole. We know that high levels of debt can lead to disaster for a society, but beyond notions from crude empirical work, we don’t have any idea what the right level of debt is. A rich enough macro/monetary/financial model will tell us the answer."

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    3. I agree that most macro models do not adequately analyze the role of debt, but I think this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with simplification. Debt arises only as a result of heterogeneity--one agent cannot borrow unless another agent is there to lend. Thus, we can't examine debt dynamics in models with a single representative agent. It is easy to criticize models for being oversimplified, but there is a real trade off--complicating the model hinders our abilities to do analysis on the model.

      For the record, Krugman and others have extended New Keynesian models to include heterogeneous agents specifically to study the role of debt. The results do not support your theses either that debt is ignored for political reasons, or that debt is an "Achilles heel" of New Keynesian theory.

      (Ok, I interpreted your use of "Keynesian" to mean "New Keynesian"--while the latter has been the most widely accepted consensus in macro for the last decade or so, there haven't been any "Keynesian" economists for a number of decades now.)

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    4. Policy-makers make policy according to their own incentives. Some of these incentives stem from their politics. Some stem from self-interest. Policy-makers use models to justfy their actions, which often require an increase in debt. These are, as you state, simplified, and often do not portray any of the negative consequences of debt. The policy-maker doesn't particularly care so long as he is able to implement his agenda. This has the tendency to perpetuate and accentuate the models that downplay debt. Therefore politics has influenced the modelling landscale dramatically.

      Please provide citations for the extended New Keynesian models you refer to, specifically those that produce potential outcomes of government debt default and/or currency crisis/hyperinflation, and which therefore have something to tell us about the limits of government spending.

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  3. I strongly with the normative content of your post, not sticking with "tribal" economics, but trying to be true to it as a science or at least the ethos of the scientific approach, but I'm not sure if freedom from politicization is possible, as we are talking about things that matter politically. But I think to some extent you have to take the position of Gunnar Myrdal, my favorite economist, that the key is not to depoliticize your analysis, but to keep your value frameworks transparent as possible. That way you can approach the normative without being a propagandist rather than an scientist.

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  4. The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

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  5. Ideas and arguments, whether "science" or not, could be put out there for rational criticism, including empirical examination when appropriate.

    Mainstream economists these days tend to distinguish between politics (non-science) and economics ("science"). Thus in their teaching and discussions with one another, they think they can bracket out their values, political judgments, etc. And so they have never seen whether their political philosophy can stand up to rational criticism. So many of them come out as knee-jerk idiots brainwashed to defend the 1% when talking about politics.

    Give me "political economy", not economics as "science". And Paul Krugman would be, at best, a centrist, if I were to live in a civilized society.

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  6. When I get this on the blog: "what you don't realize is that the Koch-funded neoliberal conspiracy is destroying our nation and if you don't spend every post calling out those corrupt plutocratic scumbags, you're part of the problem!!"

    I don't think "I'm good because both extremes don't like me either" - I think "wow - they're really not in my tribe (as you put it) which may come across as liberal but is really the skeptical empiricist tribe". When you listen to those guys long enough you start to realize that the people on the left that scream about neoliberal plots and the people on the right that scream about socialist blots are really in an irrational, paranoid tribe of their own (which of course they don't realize because they're irrational and paranoid!).

    Now notice - in disagreeing with you and Adam on high skill immigration I never cited the Koch brothers! :)

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    1. Actually I never thought of myself as a liberal before I started blogging. I always thought of myself as a moderate or "center left", really, not because it would get me into a cocktail party either but just because that's where I felt like I fell.

      So I was a little surprised when my commenters started referring to me as "liberal". I wasn't bothered of course, but that's inevitable when you talk Keynesianism and defend Krugman. And these days that's inevitable when you even breath a whiff of support for social safety nets. I always wonder - once this crisis passes and other things come to the forefront - whether people will be surprised at the ways in which I'm not "liberal".

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    2. So I was a little surprised when my commenters started referring to me as "liberal".

      It's because econ is still dominated by conservatives at the lower levels. (If you're a smart, nerdy conservative, where else do you go? The physicists won't have you.)

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    3. Not in any objective sense; rather, economics is less dominated by liberals than other fields.

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    4. If it helps, Daniel, I consider you centre-right (being the crazy paranoid anti capitalist I am)

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    5. And you're my favorite lefty unlearningecon

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  7. I some ways I think that " I do not crave invitations to Beltway cocktail parties reserved for journalists who cry "a pox on both houses"." are actually one of the bigger problems in the dialogue at the moment. Centrists used to take the best ideas from both sides. That has been replaced by journalists trying to raise their status by saying "everyone is an incompetent" except us wise people sitting on the sidelines.

    But such critiques are meaningless without ideas as to how to tackle problems.

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  8. Noah, what you don't realize is that the Koch-funded neoliberal conspiracy is destroying our nation and if you don't spend every post calling out those corrupt plutocratic scumbags, you're part of the problem!!

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  9. Ah, the thing is, reality has a liberal bias.

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  10. I don't get much of a kick out of being an iconoclast

    Erm, wait a sec--you're a liberal economics blogger; it's hard to think of anything less iconoclastic.

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  11. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Interesting post. I strongly agree with the central theme, although I find it slightly strange that you seem to be taking a somewhat defensive position, as if the idea of trying to avoid the politics and forming objective opinions based on evidence was somehow something that needed to be justified/defended? I'm not naive enough to think that science is (or will ever be) free from the influence of politicization, but it seems to me that at the basis, this is how individuals in your type of position should act (in terms of forming well-informed and intelligent opinions/conclusions based on facts, evidence and reason, as opposed to looking for results that fit a pre-conceived set of ideas - that way, if you're wrong about a specific argument, it's almost rewarding, as it will be brought upon by a new set of information/data/evidence which will improve your knowledge and perspective, as opposed to someone who just clings on to some preconceived ideological model and argues from emotion and as you mentioned, "tribal ideas").

    Don't know if that made any sense, hopefully it did...

    Adrien

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    1. Well, you'd be surprised...

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  12. As a fellow 'nerd' and engineer-turned-economist (in training) I agree 100%! Love this post!

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  13. I totally agree with you about adhering to the science (i.e. reality) of economics (or any endeavor). However, there are still "political" decisions to be made. In particular, do you value the happiness of the people of your country over that of the people in, or from, other countries?

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    1. Sure. But you can make your politics explicit instead of simply letting it quietly control which evidence you believe.

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    2. Agreed. So, do you value the happiness of the people of your country over that of the people in, or from, other countries? And why? I'm asking because I'm trying to work this out for myself.

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    3. Anonymous2:32 PM

      Not sure I understand the framing of "your country" vs "other countries" but I wonder if you think the supply-side frenzy we've embraced for the past 30 years has caused real harm and suffering. If so, would it be a crime against science to just let the supply side enthusiasts validate and defend their own theory? I think they have enough resources. I don't think any of us likes to think of ourselves as willing to betray evidence in order to win one for the team. Maybe instead we're just tired of the BS of a rigged game.

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    4. So, do you value the happiness of the people of your country over that of the people in, or from, other countries? And why? I'm asking because I'm trying to work this out for myself.

      Usually, my own country. But sometimes not. It depends.

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  14. Anonymous2:42 PM

    This sounds suspiciously similar to what the European technocrats say- "Oh, we rise above the petty politics that clouds the judgement of ordinary people. We make our decisions based on perfect logic and science!"

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  15. I was totally going to join Team Noah, because I agree with nearly all of this even though I'm not an economist, until I read the "don't enjoy cocktails."

    There may be something wrong with you ;)

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    1. Probably. Thing is, I don't like carbonated drinks and I don't like super-sweet drinks.

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  16. JohnR3:03 PM

    But, Noah - science doesn't want economists with good taste...
    Anyway, I think the argument over whether 'this' or 'that' is, or should be "a science" sort of misses the point. The sciences are just as tribal and ideological as any other area of human endeavor (cue Tom Lehrer's 'National Brotherhood Week', but substituting for his groups Physicists, Sociologists, Biochemists, Psychologists, etc.). You can call almost anything a science and draw an argument from someone who Knows (being a Real Scientist) that your petty little hand-waving time-waster is just a gussied-up form of astrology. Me, I figure science is an art, but that's just me. Science is less a field of endeavor than a manner of thinking. If you're not dealing with failure and frustration on an almost daily basis, you're not doing science. If you don't have to face the fact at least once a year that something you Know To Be True is, in fact, incorrect, you're not doing science. If you speak in Certainties, instead of probabilities, you're not doing science. I could go on and on (and usually do). Everybody's got different definitions and field-marks, of course, but mine are the right ones....
    As for logic (per Anonymous, there), I have only one thing to say. Logic is a pretty flower .. that smells bad.

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    1. You're thinking of the Shasta Daisy.

      JzB

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    2. Actually, I was thinking of the Spockian Paradox, but let that go. As a side-note, I still don't understand why Shasta doesn't market a daisy-flavored soda, but I suppose the question answers itself. Thinking about Science! (she blinded me with, Dolby, T., 1982), though, reminded me of one of the big problems so many people seem to have, that being figuring out how to let the data tell you what they mean as opposed to torturing the data until they tell you what you want to hear. I'm afraid that this is quite probably as common in the 'harder' sciences as in such relatively 'squishy' fields as economics. There are all sorts of ideologies and schools and etc., but Procrusteans are with us always and everywhere. ("When you pull all a cricket's legs off, it can't hear").

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  17. Larry Headlund4:34 PM

    Remember that that there are plenty of conservative economists who claim, no doubt sincerely, to be empiricists who follow the data without regard to ideology. You however really are a scientist, dedicated to the truth. When someone opposes your conclusions in must be because they have a motive, like selfishness (the conclusion would adversely effect their relative wages) or preconceived ideas (they think small government is good). You would never do that. You would always question studies by advocacy groups and never accept them because they come to a comfortable conclusion.

    We all are better at seeing motes than beams. Science, if anything. is a method of getting past that but it some spheres it is difficult to practice.

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    1. Is this somehow related to how some smart hard-working Indian guy is going to come to America and take your jerb?

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    2. Anonymous5:34 PM

      Is there some large block of liberal economists who are opposed to high-skill immigration? I can't think of any- it's mostly conservatives who want to block high-skill immigrants and deport people here already.

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    3. Larry Headlund3:26 PM

      @Anonymous

      I'm not aware of any large liberal bloc which is opposed to high-skill immigration. The identifiable political groups I see are

      1. Wall Street Journal Republicans. They favour immigration in general and guest worker programs at all skill levels.
      2. Pat Buchanan Republicans. They oppose immigration mainly on social and assimilationist grounds. HSI is too small a portion of the whole to get much attention from them.
      3. Mainstream Democrats. I don't know of any mainstream Democrats that oppose HSI. Rep. Dennis Kucinich I see opposes H1-B visas but voted to increase the number of high skilled immigrant visas in 2011.
      4. Progressives. Using Digby as an example she is in favour of diversity and immigration in general and sympathetic to the problems of the undocumented. I have never seen a comment on HSI on her blog.

      I'm leaving out any ad hoc groups with no other identifiable political leanings.

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    4. Larry Headlund3:30 PM

      @Noah Smith
      Is this somehow related to how some smart hard-working Indian guy is going to come to America and take your jerb?

      As it happens this dumb lazy one doesn't have to worry about anyone taking his job. That's the problem with imputing motives: you end up with cider in your ear.

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    5. Hey, Larry, hide your kids, hide your wife:

      http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/06/19/the-rise-of-asian-americans/

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    6. Larry Headlund4:35 PM

      An accusation of prejudice or racism is particularly vile. As an honest intellectual you of course have proof to back it up. I'ld like to see it. Or an apology.

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    7. Larry Headlund10:46 AM

      What was the point of your 3:59 post then?

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  18. How/why do you think that you are less prone to tribal biases than others? I think you're doing OK, but why? If I'm right and you are doing OK, how do you keep that up?

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    1. It's a good question...really you just have to constantly work at it, I think. Also, living in places where you're an extreme minority (being the only Jewish kid in a Texas town, or being a white guy in Osaka, for example) has an eye-opening effect.

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  19. Noah: "This inevitably makes my "team" kind of mad. I get comments saying "Noah, what you don't realize is that the Koch-funded neoliberal conspiracy is destroying our nation and if you don't spend every post calling out those corrupt plutocratic scumbags, you're part of the problem!!""

    A huge proportion of the comments at the immigration post were directed at slopping thinking and bad arguments.

    I've come to believe that after 'both sides hate me, so I must be right!' and 'I'm so brave for being a contrarian!' (kissing up and kicking down), third biggest - well, lie - in intellectual circles is having people attack your arguments and data, and claiming that 'they hate me for my science!'.

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    1. Oh, that slopping thinking...

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    2. I'll take a typo in a blog comment over sloppy thinking in a magazine article any day.


      And to hammer the point home, please note that nobody was on your case for typos.

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  20. Economics makes my brain hurt. However, I found your "internal devaluation can work over the long term" example of contrariness strange. Again, economics = brain hurt, but isn't this what "liberal" economists think? Internal devaluation *will* work but it will take a lot of time and be very painful?

    As for the whole argument, aren't you afraid God will strike you down for hubris? Everyone I know thinks they come to their beliefs rationally. In fact, I doubt I've ever met an extremist who didn't at least have one pet issue where they crossed over to the other side. I take your point, but it makes me uneasy. I like to think that I don't do "tribal think" as much as a lot of people. But I tend to think I'm kidding myself. Et tu, Noah?

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  21. i agree with almost everything except the part where you say science comes first, leaving the impression that you can surpress your own natural biases. you can only do certain kinds of experiments, despite recent innovations like Sim City, so interpretation of "natural experiments" i.e. historical data, like augury, will always be rife with bias. Embrace and accept the bias, turn it into an advantage: denial is even worse (because no one really believes that so you lose credibility).

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    1. Embrace and accept the bias, turn it into an advantage

      Sure, no one is free of bias. People whose fundamental goal is to persuade others need to accept their bias in order to make a strong case. And I will do this when I write op-eds. But on this blog, my goal is to lay out my thoughts, challenge and evaluate them, and in doing so get a better understanding of what is really happening in the world. Bias doesn't really help for that.

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  22. Anonymous11:43 PM

    Noah, you state the first question, "Which is that it can be a science?" However, you make no attempt to answer the question.

    The evidence is overwhelming that economics is not now and will never be science because financial markets are irrational. In fact, the two best economic minds of the last 60 years have been running experiments, using their own money, proving that financial markets are irrational (Soros and Munger). Both have written and spoken extensively on macro economics not being a science or being a failed science.

    Further, you never have addressed Wolfram's position which is that macro should be abandoned for his New Kind of Science.

    It seems to me that you need to tackle first things first. Until you can answer Soros, Munger, and Wolfram, why should anyone really pay attention?

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    1. Anonymous2:28 AM

      Wait, what? Are you saying that the study of irrational things can never be a science, or that the assumption of market rationality is so ingrained in modern economics that if they get rid of it, they'll have to rename the field? Either one seems pretty questionable.

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    2. Wolfram is a nut. Nobody needs to address his position on anything.

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    3. Piling on here - anybody who maintains that irrational behavior can't be studied scientifically is wrong.

      'Bad science' would be studying irrational behavior as if it were rational, even after massive data comes in showing massive differences between theory and reality.

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    4. Anonymous12:03 PM

      Before answering, it seems to me fair to ask you what do you mean "studied scientifically?"

      A few days ago, David Andolfatto, put up a link to a lecture by Richard Feynman on the scientific method.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EYPapE-3FRw&noredirect=1

      Now it seems to me that we presently lack the tools to study irrationality, scientifically. Take what I hope we can agree to be history's most irrational case: Hitler. What laws, subject to what experiments, can one presently develop about Hitler?

      Did his mother love him too much, or not enough? See about 5:49 (A hates this mother)

      Viewed in this light, economics has a lot of data but it has no rules that really are confirmed by experiment. In fact, experiments (actual observation) shows that such "rules" as we have are wrong and not predictive.

      Take the "Phillips curve." How does the present state of economics differ from his comment that the indefiniteness permits the researcher to make his or her results "look like" science. at 5:45

      My favorites of these is the so-called Taylor Rule and the Barro Equivalence, but there are many many others.

      In fact Keynes theory that government must borrow and spend at the zero bound is too indefinite to be called science. I doubt Keynes would, today, argue it was science.

      As for Walt's comment on Wolfram, I am left to ask, Wasn't this the view of Einstein?

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    5. "As for Walt's comment on Wolfram, I am left to ask, Wasn't this the view of Einstein?"

      Beats me - I wasn't even aware that Einstein knew Wolfram.

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    6. Anonymous7:43 PM

      No, but Wolfram knew Feynman, who did not consider him to be a "nut."

      http://www.stephenwolfram.com/publications/recent/feynman/

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    7. Read "A New Kind of Science". If you can get past the self-aggrandisement, the insight into the limitations of mathematics is worthwhile for any economist, as is Wolfram's exposition on the amazing complexity that can be generated from the very simplest imaginable dynamic process.

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  23. Anonymous8:01 AM

    It seems to me that what you're saying is that epistemic norms should override political or ethical norms, and I agree completely. Science is still a normative discipline, insofar as it tells us how we ought to think and what we ought to believe, but if allegiance to science precedes allegiance to political ideology then at least we have an agreed-upon standard with which to challenge ideas and strive to improve them. We need what might be called a "methodological ideology" centered around science, rather than a "holy book ideology" centered around a preexisting set of assumptions. We need to establish a method of obtaining facts as the overriding value, rather than the inflexible checklist of "facts" that is typical of political ideology.

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  24. You posit that the vast majority subscribe to tribal knowledge, and in the next breath aver that you won't be like that.

    You might find that getting published in the right journals - or at all - means joining a tribe; that moving up the tenure track demands it; that social pressures pull on you hard. I can think of these circumstances with little thought and no imagination. The list is not exhaustive.

    Save this post so you can reread it in 20 years.

    It will then make you either laugh or cry.

    Cheers! (sort of)
    JzB

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    1. You might find that getting published in the right journals - or at all - means joining a tribe; that moving up the tenure track demands it; that social pressures pull on you hard.

      I am not unaware of the existence of these phenomena... ;)

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  25. Anonymous2:46 PM

    "Or admit that I really have no idea if fiscal stimulus is worth the cost."

    You don't provide a link for this admission. Without that context, I will make the general point that this sort of admission (about a particularly controversial issue) does smack of Joe Kleinian "reasonableness." There is enough literature on the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus for you to have an opinion on whether it is effective. You can see how much is added to the national debt, the increase in servicing costs etc. and come away with an opinion on whether or not fiscal stimulus is a net plus. It's a tough problem, but if you wished to have an educated opinion on this matter you could.
    On the other hand, if you're too busy to do this, you can simply say nothing on the issue and, if asked, simply say "I have not done that analysis."

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    1. Link:

      http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/taylor-seems-to-agree-with-keynesians.html

      I just think it's really hard to understand the effects of stimulus, because the only data we have to go on is historical data. For one thing, it's hard to evaluate the long-term impact of stimulus because lags are long and variable, and there are lots of confounding shocks along the way.

      I've read some papers estimating the fiscal multiplier - Nakamura & Steinsson being IMHO the best. But in the end they all have to use structural models, and I can never quite bring myself to believe in those models.

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    2. Anonymous8:55 PM

      The Summers/Delong paper wasn't compelling either then?

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  26. Wonks Anonymous11:51 AM

    Who is the most prominent proponent of Real Business Cycle theory in the blogosphere?

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  27. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article
    nice post, that's very interesting information thanks for sharing :)
    I introduce a Economics student in Islamic University of Indonesia Yogyakarta

    twitter : @profiluii

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