Iluzija objektivnosti: Ekonomija je (seveda) ideološka

Dober članek Kyla Petersona v Wall Street Journalu o tem, da je ekonomija, tako kot ostale vede, ideološka. Ali če hočete, politična. Prvič zato, ker je že sama objektivnost iluzija. Vedno vidimo, kar hočemo videti. Realnost vedno vidimo skozi osebno-specifično obarvana očala. In drugič, ker smo politična bitja. Imamo svoje vrednostne sisteme ali pripadamo določeni “šoli” ter imamo temu ustrezna prepričanja in predsodke. In na tej osnovi se lotimo raziskovanja. Raziskovalno vprašanje in hipotezo si zastavimo, ko že “vemo” odgovor. In nato izberemo takšne predpostavke in tako dolgo premetavamo enačbe, miselne koncepte ali “ženemo regresije” na podatkih, dokler ne dobimo rezultata, ki smo ga imeli v mislih že na začetku. Če ga ne dobimo, če podatki ne potrjujejo naših pričakovanj, raziskavo zavržemo. Le redkokdaj nas neuspeh prisili, da premislimo vse od začetka, si priznamo, da smo se motili in smo pripravljeni sprejeti nasprotno ugotovitev od pričakovane. In iz tega se rodijo najboljše raziskave. Ki prinesejo nekaj novega, nepričakovanega. Meni se je to nekajkrat pripetilo, nazadnje pri študiji o učinkih TTIP.

Ključen problem znanosti je, da vidimo samo objavljene rezultate študij. Vidimo samo tiste, ki so jih avtorji uspeli potrditi. Ne vidimo velike množice tistih, za katere niso našli potrditev. In prav tiste so lahko najbolj pomembne. Pomislite na vse laboratorijske eksperimente ali na vse klinične teste zdravil, pri katerih raziskovalcem ni uspelo potrditi pričakovanih rezultatov.

Ekonomija glede tega ni nič drugačna od drugih ved. Je pa bolj nagnjena k ideološko pogojeni pristranosti, saj se ne ukvarja s preučevanjem amorfnih zadev, pač pa z medčloveškimi odnosi in ureditvijo družbe, kjer imajo vrednostni sistemi ter osebna, ideološka oziroma politična, prepričanja bistveno večjo težo.

Economics fancies itself a science, and Mr. Roberts used to believe, as many of his peers do, that practitioners could draw dispassionate conclusions. But he has in recent years undergone something of a crisis of economic faith. “The problem is, you can’t look at the data objectively most of the time,” he says. “You have prior beliefs that are methodological or ideological about the impact of things, and that inevitably color the assumptions you make.”

A recent survey of 131 economists by Anthony Randazzo and Jonathan Haidt found that their answers to moral questions predicted their answers to empirical ones. An economist who defines “fairness” as equality of outcome might be more likely to say that austerity hurts growth, or that single-payer health care would bend the cost curve. The paper’s authors quote Milton Friedman’s brief for “value-free economics” and reply that such a thing “is no more likely to exist than is the frictionless world of high school physics problems.”

This seems obvious to an outsider, given the field’s tendency to devolve into stalemate. Each side has highly intelligent scholars, some with fancy Swedish gold medals, and yet each finds the other’s conclusions self-evidently stupid. The old saw in science is that progress comes one funeral at a time, as disciples of old theories die off. Economics doesn’t work that way. “There’s still Keynesians. There’s still monetarists. There’s still Austrians. Still arguing about it. And the worst part to me is that everybody looks at the other side and goes ‘What a moron!’ ” Mr. Roberts says. “That’s not how you debate science.”

If economists can’t even agree about the past, why are they so eager to predict the future? “All the incentives push us toward overconfidence and to ignore humility—to ignore the buts and the what-ifs and the caveats,” Mr. Roberts says. “You want to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal? Of course you do. So you make a bold claim.” Being a skeptic gets you on page A9.

There does, however, seem to be increased chatter lately about whether economists are simply partisans with better charts. One reason might be that credibility problems in the other social sciences are metastasizing. A years long attempt to duplicate 100 psychology findings reported in August that only 36% could be reproduced. Extending the idea to 18 lab experiments in economics, a March examination could replicate only 61%.

How is it that economists, working in good faith, wind up with dubious results? To start, they can overanalyze the data. Modern computers spit out statistical regressions so fast that researchers can fit some conclusion around whatever figures they happen to have. “When you run lots of regressions instead of just doing one, the assumptions of classical statistics don’t hold anymore,” Mr. Roberts says. “If there’s a 1 in 20 chance you’ll find something by pure randomness, and you run 20 regressions, you can find one—and you’ll convince yourself that that’s the one that’s true.”

As if to prove the point, an economist two decades ago wrote an article charmingly titled “I Just Ran Two Million Regressions,” which found economic growth to be strongly correlated with Confucianism. Yet many studies aren’t so methodologically transparent. “You don’t know how many times I did statistical analysis desperately trying to find an effect,” Mr. Roberts says. “Because if I didn’t find an effect I tossed the paper in the garbage.”

Economists also look for natural experiments—instances when some variable is changed by an external event. A famous example is the 1990 study concluding that the influx of Cubans from the Mariel boatlift didn’t hurt prospects for Miami’s native workers. Yet researchers still must make subjective choices, such as which cities to use as a control group.

Harvard’s George Borjas re-examined the Mariel data last year and insisted that the original findings were wrong. Then Giovanni Peri and Vasil Yasenov of the University of California, Davis retorted that Mr. Borjas’s rebuttal was flawed. The war of attrition continues. To Mr. Roberts, this indicates something deeper than detached analysis at work. “There’s no way George Borjas or Peri are going to do a study and find the opposite of what they found over the last 10 years,” he says. “It’s just not going to happen. Doesn’t happen. That’s not a knock on them.”

None of this is to suggest that math is irrelevant. “I’m not saying facts don’t matter. I’m not saying evidence doesn’t matter,” Mr. Roberts maintains. “I’m not saying economics is a waste of time. It’s a wonderful way to help you organize your thinking about how the world works.”

But he is saying that economists ought to be humble about what they know—and forthright about what they don’t. […]

So what use is economics to politics? When the White House calls to ask how many jobs its agenda will create, what should the humble economist say? “One answer,” Mr. Roberts suggests, “is to say, ‘Well we can’t answer those questions. But here are some things we think could happen, and here’s our best guess of what the likelihood is.” That wouldn’t lend itself to partisan point-scoring. The advantage is it might be honest.

Vir: Kyle Peterson, Wall Street Journal

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