My Dismal Science



As many of our regular followers know, my background is in economics and statistical applications to economic issues (called econometrics).  This recent article in The Economist struck my eye talking about the role of political views in shaping the academic economic literature and economic opinions.  This is a thought provoking article arguing that ideological divisions in economics undermine its value to the public.  (However, as friend of everydata probonodude appropriately pointed out-- "substitute any endeavor for "economics" and this sentence holds true.")

More on point for the everydata blog, however, was this paragraph about a statistical study of economists views:

 Anthony Randazzo of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think-tank, and Jonathan Haidt of New York University recently asked a group of academic economists both moral questions (is it fairer to divide resources equally, or according to effort?) and questions about economics. They found a high correlation between the economists’ views on ethics and on economics. The correlation was not limited to matters of debate—how much governments should intervene to reduce inequality, say—but also encompassed more empirical questions, such as how fiscal austerity affects economies on the ropes

A few things to keep in mind.  First, one of our mantras at everydata- correlation is not causation!  This type of correlation must be subject to a tremendous range of omitted variables which would encompass personal biases, educational background, and a range of personal experiences.   Second, and related, is potential difficulty in relating moral questions to economic concepts.  How are the questions structured--wording in surveys matters.  Neither of these issues is to say the study isn't pointing to something interesting, but just that figuring out what it actually means may be harder than one would think at first glance.