Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why Are Experts Ignoring Voters?

There. I've fixed the question to make it more pertinent.

The irony is that the expert/voter division of responsibility is supposed to occur along the lines of the distinction between facts and values. According to this mystical fact/value scenario, the voters determine the ends and the experts then advise the government on the means to achieve those ends.

No, seriously. Stop laughing! Assuming that experts were correct in their assessments of the economic consequences of Brexit, who is to say that instead of ignoring the experts, the voters simply gave a lower priority to those facts than to other values?

I'm not suggesting that is what happened. No, the experts have disgraced themselves with self-serving "absolute" distinctions between fact and value that they transgress with impunity but that insulate them from ethical critique. The experts make a habit not only of ignoring non-experts but of ridiculing them -- and bragging about their condescension:
As the derisive name suggests, it's an idea economists view with contempt... -- Paul Krugman
And even plagiarizing each other bragging about their condescension:
(Pekka Ilinakunnas, Jan van Ours, Vegard Skirbekk, and Matthias Weiss)
Do you hear that, voters? The experts view your ideas with contempt. They brag about viewing your ideas with contempt. They plagiarize each other bragging about how much contempt they have for your ideas. Now what are going to do about it? Just ignore them?

On the other hand, there are also some experts' ideas that other experts have critiqued and refuted. Rather than view those refutations with contempt, the former set of experts simply ignore the latter's critique. Here are my candidates for experts' ideas -- old and new -- that voters ought not only to ignore but to positively view with contempt because their promulgators have demonstrated contempt for basic standards of scholarship:
  1. Non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment
  2. IS-LM "Keynesianism"
  3. System of natural liberty
  4. Growth imperative
  5. Net present value discounting
  6. Kaldor-Hicks compensation
  7. Efficiency/equity trade-off
  8. Labor/leisure trade-off
  9. Ceteris paribus
  10. Equilibrium
  11. Say's Law of Markets
  12. Wages-fund doctrine
  13. Sticky wages
  14. Self-adjusting economic systems
  15. Built-in mechanisms
  16. Supply and demand
  17. Pareto improvement
  18. Microfoundations
  19. Rational choice
  20. Coase theorem
  21. Efficient market hypothesis
  22. Spontaneous generation
  23. Phlogiston
  24. Phrenology


Thornton Hall said...

Plagiarism is everywhere, when you know where to look:

The proper diagnosis is this. Economics PhDs understand the word "science" to by synonymous with the word "physics". This is reinforced by the fact that entry to either discipline is strictly limited to math savants.

But Newton is useless to the empirical understanding of living things. Mechanical theories about living things include phrenology, astrology and academic (ortho and most hetero) economics.

But don't dwell on that, because if wrongness is the problem (and it surely is), then cataloging it is a most worthy task.

Discussions of Brexit have brought a similar distinction to my mind. You note the distinction between facts and values. In my own thoughts, spurred on by Waldman/Interfluidity and the analysis of whether or not racism is a "cause" of the Leave vote, I wondered if the central mistake is in imagining that social phenomena like voting are the kinds of things that submit to "techical analysis". One commenter there made the point that the vote couldn't be racial because it was political (!?!) This is a particular type of incoherence, one born of minds ruled by math and deductive reasoning.

Is the failure of the EU not just a mirror of the failure of economics: the misidentification of political problems as technical problems. And isn't this just an extension of the outdated notion that all science should reduce to physics? I would find a way to put technocracy in your pantheon of wrongness.

* said...

Phrenology is effectively back with neuroeconomics.

Unknown said...

Barkley please tell me that neuroeconomics is measuring head bumps on the INSIDE.

inquirer said...

The fact-value distinction is much overrated. I suggest "The Collapse of the Fact-Value Distinction" and
"The End of Value-Free Economics," both edited by Harvard philosopher Hillary Putnam, for explication.

Other literature on the subject goes at least back to the classic paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," which W. V. O. Quine published in 1951.

Philosophy of Science as used in economics is seriously out of date.

Magpie said...


I'm sure the four co-authors of the material excerpted (Ilinakunnas, van Ours, Skirbekk, and Weiss) are much better qualified than yours truly. Therefore, it's quite likely that the difficulty I am experiencing with their equations 7.2 and 7.4 is a product of my own ignorance.

Even if I am right, I think we could put this to typos.

Having said all that, I believe their equations 7.2 and 7.4 are wrong. One can see that because those equations, if one considers L as a function of w or K as a function of r, are positively sloped.

Have you or any of your readers verified their derivation or noticed anything strange with them?

Sandwichman said...

If the equations in 7.2 and 7.4 are wrong, I wouldn't attribute the error to Ilinakunnas, van Ours, Skirbekk, and Weiss. They (or the book's editors) probably just copied the equations from someplace else and have no idea what they are supposed to mean. I don't do that kind of math, so I didn't pay much attention to the equations. My previous experience with Cobb-Douglas production function is that it is completely worthless in these circumstances. It boils down to saying "if you make one set of assumptions you get one conclusion but if you make another set of assumptions you get another." The production function adds nothing to that truism but an facsimile of erudition.

Magpie said...

"They (or the book's editors) probably just copied the equations from someplace else and have no idea what they are supposed to mean."

Kind of ironic, if you think about it: so much contempt for those who allegedly fall in the LOL fallacy, based on an argument perhaps copied from someplace else, without having idea what it is supposed to mean.