The post-autistic economics review


#95

There's no reason people talking about productivity in the WSJ or elsewhere, or economists giving policy advice, should even consider, much less discuss, reswitching. There's a reason this issue is heralded as extremely important among a tiny group of ideologically-charged hacks and usually ignored by everyone else.

Davies, you mean the guy you apparently forget quoting thus (to insult me for no apparent reason), followed up by me looking up who this genius is, findings described here? Honestly, Jason, you do have quite a talent for finding the lousiest commentators on economics on the internets. I'm sure you could find lots of MBAs and people who "study biology as a hobby" who would similarly explain that biologists are morons who ignore fundamental problems with this whole "evolution" nonsense.


#96

Whenever you give policy advice, it's very important to reiterate the limitations and assumptions of any model, otherwise disastrous things can happen. If Jason is correct, are you saying that all policy makers (who take advice from economists) are so well aware of these assumptions and their ramifications that when economists are advising them, they don't need to bring them up?


#97

Understanding the "limitations and assumptions of any model" requires understanding the modelling approach at a very deep level, an understanding which policy makers don't typically have. Certainly, one shouldn't overemphasize how precise some result is, but neither would reiterating a laundry list of technical assumptions help any non-specialist understand the ideas underlying the advice. All models in all sciences are built on assumptions which often appear strange to laymen. An epidemiologist giving advice on how to contain a flu epidemic wouldn't, and shouldn't, note that the model on which he's basing his advice assumes an uncountably infinite population of randomly mixing ageless people who die according to a Poisson process (these are common assumptions in mathematical epidemiology). The advice is based on what the guy learns about the world from the model combined with empirical evidence, not the technical assumptions underpinning the mathematics. And the same is true for economics. The particular issue to which Jason refers isn't even an important caveat to standard results from basic models; it's usually something of no importance which can be completely ignored.


#98

shrugs Ok.


#99

There's a bit of discussion on Marginal Revolution right now about the "heterodox" and the CCC (Jason's "interesting" topic above). In the interest of following Jason's standards for authoritative references, I'll quote this,


#100

So to get this right, Robert Vienneau is an idiot because he links to d-squared, who you say is an idiot because 1) is mean to economists in blog comment and 2) he gets some econometrics wrong in another post.

Therefore, Brad Delong and Arnold Kling are also idiots, because they regularly links to Davies and has interesting discussions with him. Or is there some exemption for economists who declare themselves mainstream? I don't get your evaluation process here.

Well if you assume the detail is irrelelvant of course it doesn't matter. My point is I really do not understand why that is assumed if it's such a known issue that aggregation is tricky. To an outsider it looks like "mainstream economics" ignores quite a bit of important cavaets when its shilling policies to outsiders.


#101

I think that some guy who "studies economics as a hobby" and is quite keen on a topic only kept barely alive by fifth-rate Marxists probably doesn't have much to say of much interest to me, and I'll never get the thirty seconds I wasted scanning his blog back. And I thought it was funny he linked to d-squared, who's an idiot because he makes all sorts of scathing comments about topics which he has a weak and shallow understanding of, as evidenced by his lack of understanding of fairly basic econometrics.

To an outsider it looks like "mainstream economics" ignores quite a bit of important cavaets when its shilling policies to outsiders.

How would you know whether this is an important caveat, Jason? Because you read it on some random blog?


#102

Because a description of the problem sure sounds interesting, and I haven't found a good explanation of why it doesn't matter? Christ, you're a credentialist.

On the political behavior of the profession side, this is interesting.

This is more about how/when academic economists insert themselves into the debate than research, but in response to Paul Krugman I'm curious about how many mainstream economists (aside from him) were attempting to correct public perception about the underlying causes of and obvious solution to the California energy crisis.

It was a useful little event which provided me with a nice lecture (nice to me, no idea if my students agreed) about counterintuitive results which could be taught in a simple Econ 101 framework. The result is that if a firm is a monopoly then instituting hard price caps can have the counterintuitive effect of actually leading them to increase output. Capping prices would've kept the price down and the lights on.

I don't actually remember at the time too many academic economists getting into the newspapers to gently explain why, contrary to much of the nonsense being peddled at the time, the obvious short term solution was to institute immediate hard price caps, a policy the Bush FERC was resisting. A quick Nexis hunt doesn't turn up anything to contradict that idea, though I didn't do an exhaustive search.

Economists may not have tried to make that case because most of them just don't attempt to participate in the public discourse very often and they aren't on journalists' rolodexes. Maybe they didn't make the case because they weren't aware of or didn't believe evidence of market manipulation. Maybe they hesitated to make the case because they worried that they'd negatively impact a deregulation agenda they tended to agree with at least in general terms. Maybe they hesitated because they were concerned because if a policy which they're generally allergic to (government price setting) had a positive effect that politicians would try applying it to other areas.

I don't know what the answer is, or which combination, but it's worth thinking about.


#103

There's no real point in talking to skedastic Jason. I don't know why you try. He's convinced he knows better than everyone so he's not here to discuss he's here to lecture and sneer and smirk at us from up in his ivory tower. Don't waste your time.


#104

You didn't just say the problem "sounds interesting," which would be bad enough for the same reason that musing about an "interesting" blog on Intelligent Design is suspect. You then went on to confidently assert that on the basis of this guy's blog that economists "ignore quite a bit of important cavaets when its shilling policies to outsider." I ask you how you know that this caveat is "important" and you just insult me, again, instead of actually answering the question. It isn't "credentialism" to think that one actually should have some sort of a clue what they're talking about if they want to make sweeping declarative statements about some complex subject.


#105

So instead of throwing insults (like I'm one to talk), can you explain as best as you can in layman's terms why these caveats aren't important?


#106

Is there any compelling reason for skedastic to confine himself to "layman's terms" while discussing an inherently non-layman's subject?


#107

Where humanity came from is pretty interesting; it's also not particularly difficult to figure out why intelligent design is not a good explanation of anything.

By contrast, the aggregation thing is apparently either so complicated I can't understand the refutation without lots of study, the refutation isn't out there and there's something to it, or I just can't find it. I have a few things to read in the area queued up - from both the awesome credentialed mainstream, and, uh, Joan Robinson on the other side - but I don't know when I going to get around to reading them. On a practical note, I've found problems that can be explained in a paragraph (in layman's terms!) but can't be solved in a paragraph are where all the interesting stuff lies. I'd say it's an important cavaet because it apparently crops up everywhere in the field.


#108

What would he say to a policy maker that asked the same thing? Just trust me?

You have to get to specialized definitions somehow, and that's though non-specialized terms. If he can't describe the phenomenon that relegates these caveats to unimportance for laypeople, then what use is his job? That's in both senses, since he is a professor after all, no?

I mean, if the effects of the theory of relativity can be explained in layman's terms, I don't see why he can't explain the effects that make these caveats unimportant in layman's terms.

Edit: That's also why I applied the "best as he can" qualifier. Some people are better at this than others.


#109

And yet, there are many otherwise intelligent people who persist in believing in intelligent design. Changing people's minds about complex topics through rational argument is difficult, particularly when they have pre-existing biases.

I don't know or particularly care about heterodox economics, but I find it frankly inconceivable that papers espousing well-supported theories are being universally shut out of economics journals because of some grand conspiracy. Why are you more willing to believe hereodox economists than, say, the heterodox beliefs of 911Truth.org or Adam Trombly ?


#110

Mordrak: It's more correct to say that an approximation of the effects of the theory of relativity can be explained in relatively layman's terms.

The problem is that any highly technical subject necessarily involves lots of jargon and whatnot in order to discuss it. It's no different for physics. Economics is kind of a unique problem in that there's a pretty broad intersection with public policy, so there's a lot of pressure to explain things "in layman's terms." Physics by and large doesn't much have this problem.

My point is just that challenging someone to explain a technical subject in layman's terms is often an unfair challenge. Technical jargon and the like don't exist because people want to lock Joe Sixpack out of understanding their field; it exists because without it the stuff is really fucking hard to understand.


#111

That's all I'm asking for, just an approximation of why it doesn't matter.

The problem is that any highly technical subject necessarily involves lots of jargon and whatnot in order to discuss it. It's no different for physics. Economics is kind of a unique problem in that there's a pretty broad intersection with public policy, so there's a lot of pressure to explain things "in layman's terms." Physics by and large doesn't much have this problem.

My point is just that challenging someone to explain a technical subject in layman's terms is often an unfair challenge. Technical jargon and the like don't exist because people want to lock Joe Sixpack out of understanding their field; it exists because without it the stuff is really fucking hard to understand.

I understand why jargon exists and I understand it can be difficult to explain technical concepts in layman's terms. Even though I don't remember most of it, I've studied 3 sections of physics, I've studied differential equations, linear algebra, up through 3 dimensional calculus and early advanced mathematics (set theory, relations, yada, yada). I've studied computer science including assembly, c, and c++ and data structures and algorithm analysis. I'm not claiming I'm smart or that that stuff is even advanced. Hell, I made it through so it can't be. I'm just saying that I've been exposed to the importance of specialized terms. Even after moving to the dreaded liberal arts, there's still technical jargon that's used for specificity.

But I've also learned through that experience that concepts can be explained in layman's terms. If someone's not willing to make the effort, I might as well go ask a shaman.

Edit: So instead of just telling Jason they aren't important, say why. If they are too complex for him to understand without more training, then at least say that. If he doesn't want to, then he should say he doesn't want to.


#112

A few loons are claiming that, but for the reason it's more "the discipline is really hostile to some things for ideological reasons and shoves some stuff that looks like significant areas of disagreement under the carpet."

Milton Friedman running an international freemason conspiracy to subjugate humanity is a lot funnier, though.


#113

So when some Intelligent Design guy rejects a biologist's technical argument on some molecular biological topic, he's a nutjob with an agenda; but when you reject an economist (for the blahgosfeer!), you're an enlightened and rational actor just looking for the truth? From someone who isn't a "credentialist" (aka "has credentials in the relevant area")?


#114

Shift, I wouldn't be saying that if he was providing the damn reasons, rather than just flailing around about how someone doesn't have a degree or whatever it is.