What I find in practice is that all the economic analyses I read as part of my work are based on only one ‘school’ of ethical thought, that being teleological/consequentialism.
That seems highly likely to me. They're trying to be progressive, after all. They want to build a science. They want to make the tools by which to achieve economic ends with the best possible chances. Debating the ends themselves doesn't have to hold that up.
Had they understood other schools of moral thought (say, Aristotelian virtue ethics), their theory and tools would instead have been developed to discover the midpoint between excess and deficiency, rather than the highest value use.
Perhaps. But I studied virtue ethics in my philosophy degree and I couldn't make head or tail of it. Not sure how it would help people who maybe do a couple of weeks on it to make sounder choices about what to do with billions of dollars. Choice though it may be to "walk slowly and talk deeply" as the "magnanimous man" the embodiment of virtue, might, it's not helping to decide between rail or more buses.
Yes, I'm being dismissive of virtue ethics. Yes, there's probably a lot more to it. But I sure wasn't convinced after a year long course by a major fan of it on applied ethics. I came away thinking that it was giving more credence to pre-Christian philosopher's insights into how to make moral choices in the 20th Century than he deserved.
Why is that a horrid neck of the woods, if it is what it is, better to acknowledge it and understand it
My main problem with it is that it tries to boil all economic choices down to moral choices, rather than practical ones. I think that moral choice is at the bottom of economics, but it's not the whole business. The choice of whether to spend public funds on a railway, for instance, isn't just about class struggle. It's also about whether it would be the best use of the money even if the planners are entirely sympathetic to class struggle. Which are decisions that have to be made constantly. To attempt to put them onto an evidence based footing is important.
Furthermore, a great deal of the class struggle paradigm means that useful discussion becomes impossible, since the theorists themselves are part of the class struggle, so you end up with discussions about their ideas boiling down to ad hominems about their own personal interests.
Which is not to say there's no truth in it. I think there is. But I don't think pointing that out gives very much guidance to the resolution. If economics is not scientific enough, the solution is not to say that it's all vain ambition in the end, that nothing can be done about that, that all economic debate is a shouting match between tribes. Maybe something can be done about that. Maybe this statistic from the OECD isn't just a bunch of rich wankers trying to play a trick on the working class, but is actually them genuinely trying to grasp a phenomenon in the world. And maybe, with improved techniques, they could actually make progress on that. It's at least possible.
It's the animal kingdom's critique of the entire human race.
I think I understand how we ended up with this discussion. You’re confusing political and economic ideology with actual science :P
No, I'm not confusing them. I'm saying one is a pale shadow of the other, and it could do better. It is worth discussing how it could do so, although of course giving up is an easier option. Call me a dreamer. This is a thread about how such scientific evidence as we do have suggests a course of action. It is also possible to take a course of action that is also scientific (and also happens to be the same course) in it's very nature, a conscious exploration of a possibility. Well, let's face it, on the evidence it's a high probability (so far as we can calculate by simply relying on external events to provide us with data). But it is not a certainty, not even close.
Our response to being wrong is to say “we were wrong, lets try something else with the aim of being right”.
If you were designing a political system, this is what it would do.
Isn’t that the premise for most if not all government policy.
It seems to be. But it doesn't have to be. It at least worth thinking about how it could not be.
I agree that you are right to feel uneasy about that.
I didn't just get a major in stats so that I couldn't question causation claims :-). Thanks for your reply and Bart and Matthew too, I have to split for the rest of the evening so hopefully the thread can get back on topic :-)
the hypothesis behind any policy change is “This will make things better for people in our electorate by delivering xyz outcome,” surely?
That's not really very specific. I wouldn't call that a hypothesis, just a sales pitch. But what I'm getting at is that it's never suggested that they will make a change and then rescind it if it doesn't work. It's got to be accompanied by ridiculous levels of confidence about something that seems to be incredibly uncertain in reality.
If we have enough observations and put together a good model the next experiment is obvious.
Yes, that's pretty much what I was suggesting to Rob before. It's not like it's a crime to look at your observations and then predict a model that looks like the pattern you see there. It's probably not going to shed huge light, but maybe what you're seeking at that point isn't insight, but greater certainty. But I suppose you could technically say that such a hypothesis has no place in that experiment, but could be in the next one.
But really we actually do make hypotheses.
I'd hope so. What I'm interested in is the way in which they come about - ultimately the aim IS the hypothesis, rather than just an agglomeration of unanalyzed data.
Each time a government makes changes to policy that affect both inequality and economic growth an experiment is being performed.
Is it really an experiment if no hypothesis is made beforehand, as Rob Stowell asks?
No way any experiment is simple enough to eliminate any doubt.
Of course that's an impossibly high expectation. But it can be a lot better than having no idea at all well before then.
How could you design an experiment without doing this?
I'm not asking about the theory of doing experiments, I'm asking about the actual practice. It's quite possible to not make a prediction about what will be observed, but to just design an experiment that pits some variable against another, make observations, and then guess the hypothesis at some point that isn't right at the beginning.