Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is everything debatable?

Near the beginning of this semester, in my macro principles class, we were talking about all the reasons why economists might disagree. Belief in different theories or methodologies, differing interpretations of evidence, and differences in values or priorities: these pretty much capture everything, I think, although you could elaborate on each of these and delineate subcategories. During this discussion, one of my students asked, "So, in economics, is everything debatable?"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Quantitative and qualitative economics

A post on the Scientific American blog asks, "Is Economics More Like History Than Physics?" I do not think that this is a useful question to ask, in that it implies that we must choose one approach or the other. A much better question is how we might use each kind of approach (historical and scientific), what insights there are to be gained from each, and what pitfalls each presents. This is really a two-sided argument (or perhaps a two-front war): there is nothing inherently wrong with the use of mathematical tools to analyze economic questions, and these methods have generated many valuable insights; but non-mathematical methods may also be useful. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

On election day, a half-baked proposal

Election day today, albeit not one of the more exciting ones for Texans. Reminds me of an idea I had a while back for reforming the government. A party of sorts forms, with congressional candidates all across the country, on a platform consisting solely of campaign finance reform. Something really drastic, along the lines of Ayres and Ackerman or Lessig. Once these folks get into office and pass the Campaign Finance Reform Act, or whatever it comes to be known, they all resign. Then we can have a serious election. As I noted previously, taking the money out of politics wouldn't solve all of the problems with our current system, but it would sure help a lot.

I think it might actually work if voters could be convinced that a vote for one of these candidates is a vote for campaign finance reform, with no other implications. Two problems I can see: a coordination problem, in that people don't want to vote for one of these candidates if they don't feel confident that enough of them will be elected to pass the law; and there isn't any way for the candidates to commit to the deal, including the resignation part. They could be voted out of office eventually, but I imagine voters would be nervous about the prospect of people with random political stances (except on the one issue) running amok in the federal government for any length of time. Those with a vested interest in the status quo could exploit that nervousness. Thus the characterization of the proposal as "half-baked."