I enjoy the Econtalk podcast, and one of the concepts I’ve taken away from it is the notion of scientism – defined as the notion that whatever science is available about a topic explains the topic.
Some things are inherently difficult to study, like economics or medicine (complex systems) compared to traditional scientific topics like chemistry or metallurgy. It is harder to design studies to measure the impact of a minimum wage increase than it is to measure the impact of 55% humidity increase on exposed copper.
Seemingly our understanding increases in it’s certainty with the more complex the system.
At what point are you safer using a priori logic to make decisions than evidence? How many studies do you need to model complex behavior?
I came across this article on Ars Technica “First, Kill All The Experts” and I was reminded of the importance of language.
The gist of the article is that people distrust experts leaving us vulnerable to the dangers of global warming, privatized health care, etc. The confusion is that of scholarship vs expertise. Seemingly if you can’t run tests or repeat the same experiments over and over you’re just well versed in the theories and literature. Seemingly one would give more credence the the predictions of a structural engineer about a structure than a climatologists about the climate (or a macro-economist about the economy) .
From Arnold Kling (emphasis mine)
I am a macroeconomics skeptic. I think that my background in the subject is deep enough that my reasons for skepticism are legitimate. See, for example, my memoirs of a would-be macroeconomist.
I am a climate science skeptic, but not based on a similarly deep background. I just look at the superficial similarities with macroeconomics and infer that skepticism is warranted. It is plausible to me that the climate “consensus” is way off. However, it could be off in either direction–maybe the temperature increase will be faster and sharper than the consensus forecast.
When it comes to the differences between macro and climate science, points (1) and (2) favor climate science. However, point (3) leans against climate science. Good ideas are persuasive. If you need to excommunicate unbelievers, you are dealing in religion, not science.
Via Megan McArdle – I’m not for this, but it would solve the problem.
My lunatic proposal for the day: why not make it easier to move homeowners out of homes they can’t afford? Set up a streamlined foreclosure proceeding where a current or mildly delinquent homeowner can simply give the house to the bank and walk away. Do this with two legal provisos:
1. No tax on the forgiven loan
2. No black mark on the credit record. The bank marks the loan as fully satisfied.
Of course, if we decide to actually “fix” the problem we should loosen immigration and get people actually in the vacant houses.
Via Megan McArdle “History may not repeat itself, but it stutters like hell.”
We’re officially in a recession – and for the first time in living memory American household debt shrinks! Americans really will do the right thing once all other options have been tried!
From Marginal Revolution comes this adage
It is through exchange that difference becomes a blessing, not a curse.