The view from over there

by Henry on October 3, 2007

Via “Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/, this “IHE article”:http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/03/heterodox covers the right orthodoxy vs. left heterodoxy debate in economics again, and seems to end up implying that it’s mostly happening in the heads of heterodox economists. For my money, that’s far too strong a conclusion – there is “genuine evidence”:http://www.atypon-link.com/AEAP/doi/pdf/10.1257/0895330053147976?cookieSet=1 that economics training pushes grad students further to the right, weeds out radical ideas etc. It may indeed be true that heterodox types exaggerate the degree of uniformity among the orthodox, but that is a somewhat different argument. Be that as it may, I found the article’s extensive discussion of Daniel Klein’s “counter-insurgency” against leftwing economists to be pretty interesting. According to the article, Klein starts from the position that economics should be a classical liberal creed, and that “the burden of proof should be on those who wish to intervene in markets.” Fair enough if that’s yer ideological druthers. But then he argues that:

there is also a bias, perhaps unconscious, in the media: “Basically they’re social-democratic periodicals, and probably journalists, writing those articles talking almost exclusively … to people on the left.”

This is a … striking claim – there’s plenty of survey evidence (Jonathan Chait discusses this in his recent book) that journalists tend to have somewhat right-of-center views on economic issues. I doubt that Klein (whose bread-and-butter appears to be survey evidence on professionals’ attitudes) is unaware of this; the only conclusion that I can come to is that Klein believes that the vast majority of people in the US, including many people who would be considered to be on the right and indeed consider themselves to be so, are in fact social democrats. If only, says me.

Clarification: Daniel Klein says in comments below that he was specifically referring to the journalists who wrote the pieces for The Nation, In These Times, the NYT and the Atlantic. This is, to me, a considerably more defensible claim with respect to The Nation and ITT (I’m skeptical about the NYT being social democratic on economic issues and the Atlantic is a resolutely centrist publication) , and suggests that I simply didn’t understand what seemed to me to be a pretty odd statement.

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How right-wing are journalists on economic issues? « SAPTHAHIK AMAR ALOK
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1

kharris 10.03.07 at 6:22 pm

In the case of both Cowen and Klein, is sounds as if they have let their ideological “druthers”, as you say, get in the way of honest brokering of ideas. This is not new for Cowen. In much of what he writes, he seems willingn to let his own views get in the way of facts. His blog is often little more than a soapbox from which to make classical/libertarian arguments dressed up as reviews of recent events. Just once, I’d like to see him write about some event, some market, something, as other than an example of how the world would be better off if he got to make the rules. Just once, I’d like to be surprised at his conclusion.

2

Bob B 10.03.07 at 6:39 pm

“there is genuine evidence that economics training pushes grad students further to the right, weeds out radical ideas etc.”

Perhaps that is because economics graduates tend to be paid more than graduates in most other subjects – in Britain, at least:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/good_university_guide/article2253011.ece

3

Barry 10.03.07 at 6:50 pm

Henry, I’m getting a cookie error from the ‘genuine evidence link’.

4

Kimmitt 10.03.07 at 7:28 pm

Buh? Economics should be a study of what’s going on, not an explicit endorsement of a given conclusion.

5

roger 10.03.07 at 8:08 pm

The article didn’t seem to me to get to the question that would distinguish heterodox from orthodox economics. That question, it seems to me, is the neo-classical assumption that, as Robert Lucas put it, the equilibrium model of markets is the apriori condition of intelligibility in economics. Thus, market clearing is the norm – and if, like Keynes, you reject Say’s law, you fall outside the orthodoxy.

Things like views on the minimum wage law are simply epiphenomena, in comparison.

6

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.07 at 8:11 pm

“For my money, that’s far too strong a conclusion – there is genuine evidence that economics training pushes grad students further to the right”

If we were talking about evolution and biology training would you make the same type of comment with a straight face?

It may very well be that economics training pushes grad students further to the right, but what conclusion you draw from that is much more likely to reveal one’s extra-economic judgments about how the world ought to work than it is about the validity of economic understanding.

And if journalists as a group are to be considered having ‘right-of-center’ economic views, what are the ‘exactly-center’ economic views that they are to the right of? You still can’t get most journalists to understand super-basic things like price controls contributing to housing scarcity in New York city.

7

engels 10.03.07 at 8:18 pm

Sebastian, do you actually have any evidence that training in biology (or other disciplines) has a measurable effect on political allegiance?

8

JM 10.03.07 at 8:18 pm

Sebastian,

You’re exaggerating just a bit. I can say with relative certainty that nearly every journalist writing for a major paper that would ever cover the housing market understands the effects of price controls. They might, however, dispute that price controls are solely to blame for a housing scarcity. The latter doesn’t imply a lack of understanding the former, however.

As far as what the economic “center” is, it’s historically contingent. I’d like to see the study linked above for graduate students (it’s not working for me either), as well as the study cited by Chait to see how each defines the “center” (assuming both attempt to do so).

I’d certainly argue that in the DLC era, the Democrats have become much more conservative economically. So, the “center” in elite discourse is probably much more conservative than it was in the early postwar era, for example. I don’t know that the views of most Americans have change as drastically, though.

Anyone have any studies to suggest on this topic?

9

Daniel Klein 10.03.07 at 8:22 pm

Clarification: When I remarked about journalists I was talking about the authors of the recent articles about the econ profession in The Nation, In These Times, NYT, and The Atlantic.

10

Walt 10.03.07 at 8:35 pm

Sebastian, you’re indulging in your prediliction for gotcha well in excess of the facts. Academic economists learn a specific approach to viewing the world, one that can be loosely described as “neoclassical economics”. This theory did not arise solely by the neutral observation of facts or by conducting experiments. Economics just does not work the way that biology does.

11

Demosthenes 10.03.07 at 8:36 pm

I think setting it up as a right vs. left debate is wrongheaded. The problem, is, instead, a methodological one; that economics is so wrapped up in its combination of purist formalism and deduction-from-axiom that it hurts the explanatory and predictive usefulness of the craft. Certainly most other social sciences are neither so dogmatic in their methods, nor in their conclusions, except to the extent that they’ve been “colonized” by the economists’ Rational Choice paradigm.

A case in point would be Card and Kriegan. I never got the impression that they were attacked because their beliefs were so radically leftist, but because they undermined a conclusion that flows logically from economists’ assumptions, thus raising the question of the accuracy of those assumptions. Economics, more than many other social sciences, is uniquely threatened by such things: since so much of it is deductive, an empirical finding that threatens the axioms threatens the science itself.

(Interestingly, many heterodoxes aren’t that much different. The Labor Theory of Value has enough holes in it to drain pasta, but Marxian Political Economists remain loathe to discard it.)

12

Demosthenes 10.03.07 at 8:40 pm

Oh, and as a point of example: the same principles that suggest that unemployment as a result of minimum wage hikes are the ones that predict the housing availability changes that Sebastian was so blithely referencing.

Journalists, not sharing the assumptions, may not share the conclusions. “Right-of-center” or no.

13

Demosthenes 10.03.07 at 8:40 pm

“Is” a result. My apologies.

14

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.07 at 9:11 pm

Look, someone else who doesn’t believe that price controls contribute to scarcity. Journalist? Academic?

And I would like to note that I very specifically did not make a judgment about whether or not economists are objectively correct. I said: “It may very well be that economics training pushes grad students further to the right, but what conclusion you draw from that is much more likely to reveal one’s extra-economic judgments about how the world ought to work than it is about the validity of economic understanding.”

The data point “economics training pushes grad students further to the right” says precisely NOTHING about the validity of economic thinking. Henry hints that the cited fact is somehow important to the question of the validity of traditional economic thinking. It does not. AT ALL. If economic training leads to generally correct understanding, the fact that it pushes one more to the right merely means that, on average, the right is more correct on questions for which economic thinking is important. If economic thinking leads to generally incorrect understanding, the fact that it pushes one more to the right means that, on average, the right is less correct on questions for which economic thinking would be important.

In neither case does the data about which political direction economic training pushes you useful for discussions about the validity of a particular type of economic training.

Henry seems to think that it does. He is either miscommunicating, or incorrect.

As for journalists, again I would like to know how so many of you seem to be able to smugly judge them “right of center” on economic understanding, when you can’t even give me a hint of what “center” is.

15

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.07 at 9:13 pm

I have a strange problem with ‘does’ and ‘is’ above. I don’t know what caused that.

16

Grand Moff Texan 10.03.07 at 9:21 pm

“the burden of proof should be on those who wish to intervene in markets.”

What kind of “intervention” does he mean, here? Government intervention? Institutional buyers’ activity? State banks?
.

17

John Emerson 10.03.07 at 9:25 pm

I’m trying to be good today. But anyway.

One recent survey showed that, unlike other groups, economists’ politics did not vary right-left with their income. One of the commenters noted that that may because econmists’ income doesn’t vary much. I’d guess that almost all non-disabled econ PhDs are in the top 10 or 20 percent in income and wealth.

I’ve recently been reading Amartya Sen and Hilary Putnam on the status of ethics in philosophy and economics. Putnam speaks of ethical thinking as a form of applied thinking, which I think is right, and Sen introduces ethical judgments (about equality and freedom) into his conomics in order to make it possible to find the economic prerequisites for freedom and equality, thus providing an economic goal other than increased productivity or increased output.

This led me to ask why economics does not have a clear distinction between applied and theoretical forms, as all of the real sciences (with engineering, medicine, agronomy etc. being examples of applied sciences, partially dependent on but distinguishable from the pure sciences).

It’s really a bait and switch. When claiming the advantage over non-scientists and other social scientists in policy debates, economists brag about their scientific superiority and pure scientificity (as Sebastian does). But they also often claim that pure economics does dictate policy prescriptions (applications). And to an extent this is true, because economics never did make the theory-practice distinction, so conservative policy goals are tacitly and implicitly wired in as the default, and the burden of proof is on opponents to prove that the conservative goals are wrong. (This was pretty explicit in Friedman’s Positive Economics; he just assumed agreement about goals in about ten or twenty words.)

In the things I’ve seen the heterodox are divided between old schools (old institutionalist, old Keynesian, Marxist, Austrian), economists with interests usually ignored (environmental and feminist economists, and perhaps labor economists) and people working on new paradigms (fractal and evolutionary economists: these two seem easiest to integrate into the mainstream.)

18

PC Support 10.03.07 at 9:27 pm

For those having troule viewing the content pointed to by the evidence link: check what your browser is configured to do about cookies. This is under the “Preferences” menu on the browsers I’m familiar with (IE, Safari, Firefox).

Having one’s browser set to reject all cookies is rare. However, a setting like “Accept Cookies Only From Sites I Navigate To” is fairly common, and will result in failure at the site Henry is pointing to. (BTW, that is the terminology used by Safari, the browser I’m using at the moment. Your milage might vary slightly).

19

Colin Danby 10.03.07 at 9:47 pm

I’ve written in previous threads about the futility of trying to map differences on social ontology and method into a little left-right spectrum, but lamentably I haven’t persuaded Henry. Cowen is quite right to resist that sort of reduction.

The fundamental silliness of the IHE piece is in trying to get all this to hinge around attitudes to markets in the abstract. You can work from Post Keynesian or even Marxian priors and still come to the conclusion that most current protectionism is malign and the world would be better off without it. And contrary to popular belief neoclassical economics is not reducible to free-market orthodoxy.

20

Colin Danby 10.03.07 at 9:50 pm

P.S. John’s asking the right questions. One place to start looking is implicit conceptions of the state. A lot of collapses happen in the move from theory to “policy.”

21

Henry 10.03.07 at 10:02 pm

Henry hints that the cited fact is somehow important to the question of the validity of traditional economic thinking.

Um no. To his knowledge (and he did write the post), he didn’t. That said, Henry doesn’t possess a Sekrit Wingnut Dekoder Ring – perhaps the truth would be presented to him in all its blinding majesty if he did.

In neither case does the data about which political direction economic training pushes you useful for discussions about the validity of a particular type of economic training.

Henry seems to think that it does. He is either miscommunicating, or incorrect.

Or, to propose an alternative explanation, Sebastian is again (dishonestly?, because he has difficulty in comprehending plain English sentences??) imputing claims to people that they didn’t in fact make.

22

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.07 at 10:09 pm

So you put in the point about political leaning after economic training for what reason then? Or no reason whatsoever? Do you just throw in random facts with no application whatsoever?

Was that sentence just as useful to the discussion as “my mother has brown hair”?

23

John Emerson 10.03.07 at 10:17 pm

Sebastian, you’re not even talking about the post. If economics training pushes people to the right, that’s a good thing if, in fact, the truths of economic science validate conservative politics. Henry was just taking the conservative push as given and going on to talk about something else.

24

notsneaky 10.03.07 at 10:29 pm

All the “on the one hand, on the other hand” stuff in economics makes for Moderates. Given that most students start out on the medium to far left, moderation means they’re going to move right. And that’s pretty much the extent of the “evidence” that economics makes people into right-wingers. They’re just not as far to the left as your average 19 year old or your average non-science academic.

And I dunno about price controls per se, but I do think it’s pretty obvious that economic reporting by journalist is really really really horrible, whether you look at it from the right, the left, the center, the top, the bottom, the land, the sea, the air, or the eighth dimension. Three words: Brad-De-Long.

25

John Emerson 10.03.07 at 10:34 pm

Many move pretty far right (counting libertarians as right), and left economists are very rare.

On the American political scene, Krugman and DeLong are centrists who got wise to Bush early. Among economists I suspect that they’re on the left.

26

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.07 at 10:55 pm

Also, Henry, should I believe that you can give hints about what the economic center is that journalists are so obviously to the right of? I presume you aren’t citing “plenty of survey evidence” as completely off the topic data too.

27

notsneaky 10.03.07 at 11:00 pm

If we’re gonna start talking temperature then we need to define the 0.

28

Henry 10.04.07 at 12:33 am

Sebastian – no I don’t throw sentences in at random. When I’m commenting on a story which is all about whether or not the mainstream of the economics profession is right wing, I feel, funnily enough, that survey evidence suggesting that economics training makes people more right wing than they would be otherwise, is interesting and relevant. It is interesting and relevant regardless of whether the laws of supply and demand have been discovered to have been emblazoned on the tablets that Moses took down from the mountain, or, alternatively, the Chicago School have been transreversing their students’ brains with evil alien mind-control rays. That’s the point of this post – if you had read the story I linked to with any care, you wouldn’t have _needed_ a Dekoder Ring. This is all _especially_ annoying because we have all been around this ring before – as I said in a previous discussion on this topic, the fact that economics training pushes people to the right doesn’t mean that it’s indoctrination (I happen to believe that there is an ideological element to it, but I have explicitly noted in the past that the survey evidence of a right wing shift doesn’t provide confirming or denying evidence for this claim).

Colin – I can’t remember arguing with you on this, and as best as I understand your brief argument here, I agree with it (I would have to, as a lefty who likes rational choice theory). That said, I do think that there are _elective affinities_ between certain ontological frames and certain political positions, but the linkages between them seem to me not to flow either naturally or inevitably.

29

John Emerson 10.04.07 at 1:11 am

Henry is a brilliant scholar, but he doesn’t always express himself clearly — he’s like Greenspan that way. What he should have said, and perhaps intended to say, was “Go fuck yourself, Sebastian”.

30

Ragout 10.04.07 at 1:46 am

Since Henry is wrong when he claims that “economics training pushes grad students further to the right,” this whole discussion is completely pointless.

The article he cites actually found that most elite econ grad programs had no consistent effect on students’ ideology. At the two exceptions, Chicago pushed students to the right and Princeton pushed them left. See the quote below. If there’s anything contradicting this finding in the article, I missed it. Perhaps Henry could point more specifically to his evidence?

One interesting finding in the article is just how liberal econ grad students really are. Even at the most conservative schools (Chicago and Stanford), about 45% of students describe themselves as liberal or radical. If memory serves, that’s about double the percentage of liberals in the general population. At Yale, 70% of the econ students are liberals or radicals, a bit higher than Harvard, where it’s 67%. So the alleged conservative brainwashing program seems to be failing.

From the article Henry cites:

In the survey, I also asked those who did change their views in what direction their views changed. For most schools the change went both ways. One student captured what likely is happening when he stated, “I became more eclectic. Both conservatives and liberals have their favorite pipe dreams at odds with reasonable economics.” There were two exceptions. At Chicago, nine students reported becoming more conservative, and only one more liberal, while at Princeton six students reported becoming more liberal and only one more conservative. Since Princeton and Chicago reported roughly the same percentage of conservative students, it seems that Princeton brings in conservative students and turns them into liberals, while Chicago brings in liberal students and turns them into conservatives.

31

Colin Danby 10.04.07 at 2:03 am

I agree on these points Henry. Part of my difficulty with the original post is that after a few years of sporadic hanging out on these blogs I just don’t know what left and right mean any more, plus no definition that I can think of correlates well with social ontology or method in economics. (And with terms so poorly defined people like Klein can easily play the game of defining anyone who takes a softer line then they on the role of the state as a dangerous pinko.)

So one question is how do elective affinities work, how are people persuaded to collapse an n-dimensional idea-space into a one-dimensional map.

The collapse your original post suggested also squeezes out heterodox literatures. If you assign neoclassical econ to the “right” position then Austrian econ, which is genuinely heterodox and deserves a wider audience, drops off the map. On the other side if the “left” position is conflated with opposition to markets almost everything interesting in Marxism, for example, vanishes.

It’s also noteworthy that in the contemporary U.S., protectionist arguments seem often to be accompanied, or indeed informed, by chilling nativism. I’m not sure how categories like left or right help us cope with that.

32

Henry 10.04.07 at 3:11 am

Ragout – you seem to have missed page 177:

The large majority of [students surveyed in seven top ranked econ grad programs] (80 percent) felt that their political views did not change in graduate schools, although that changed by year, with 10 percent of first-year students reporting a change in their views, but 32 percent of fourth- and higher-year students reporting a change in their views. In particular, 10 percent of first-year students considered themselves conservative; by the fourth and fifth year, this number had risen to 23 percent. There was also a large drop by year in students who considered themselves radical; that percentage fell from 13 percent of first year students to only 1 percent of fourth-year and higher students.

The sentence immediately following the bit that you did quote is also of some interest (albeit of the anecdotal variety):

When asked about the tendency of economics students [in Chicago] toward a more conservative point of view, one student noted that one of the teachers in the first year stated, “I’m not here to teach you; I’m here to brainwash you.” The student continued, “And that’sbeen pretty much successful.”

33

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 6:05 am

By the fourth or fifth year it had risen to 23%? Oh dear!

“When I’m commenting on a story which is all about whether or not the mainstream of the economics profession is right wing, I feel, funnily enough, that survey evidence suggesting that economics training makes people more right wing than they would be otherwise, is interesting and relevant.”

You read that story and your take-away was that it was all about whether or not the mainstream of the economics profession is right wing? Hmmm. I think a much more proper reading would be that the article suggests that the ‘mainstream’ isn’t nearly unified enough to make useful left-right distinctions at all.

And you are going to say that a study which suggests that 23% end up conservative suggests that Tyler overstated the case that economics is not a particularly right-wing discipline? Hmmm.

And you haven’t said much in defense of your statement that “journalists tend to have somewhat right-of-center views on economic issues”. That statement is very surprising. Surely you could at least in very broad terms sketch out what the center is that journalists are to the right of.

Perhaps none of those things were actually important to your main point. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to much left of your post when you take them all out.

34

john m. 10.04.07 at 7:22 am

Here’s fuel to the fire with a question for the economists in the audience (I mean fully qualified, not armchair or self appointed): is economics the most widely misunderstood discipline in human endeavour?

For examples see above. I’m not naming names…

35

dsquared 10.04.07 at 7:29 am

as far as I can see, the function of economics training is to leave idealistic students with their liberal goals intact, but to convince them that any attempt to do anything about those goals (particularly, any attempt which involves taking cash away from rich people) would be counterproductive or ineffective. Thus making them into the most irritating kind of rightwinger – the kind that keeps on telling you how much they care.

Remember, as JKG said, it’s the pursuit of a higher moral case of for selfishness that we’re after here.

36

Hidari 10.04.07 at 7:43 am

For what it’s worth
‘According to the article, Klein starts from the position that economics should be a classical liberal creed, and that “the burden of proof should be on those who wish to intervene in markets.”’

Klein would seem to me to be absolutely wrong here on two counts. First, since when does science teach us that we shouldn’t interfere with nature? (the ‘laws’ of nature always being compared to the ‘laws’ of economics…by economists). Since when has science ‘taught’ us that we shouldn’t get coal out of the ground, build cars, cities and ‘planes, fly to the moon, create nuclear power etc. etc. etc. ?

Second this presupposes that there are two entities; ‘state intervention’ (or even ‘the state’) and the ‘markets’, that they have nothing to do with each other, and that the ‘state’ can ‘intervene’ (or even interfere) with these ‘markets’ (funnily enough, economists care a lot less when the ‘markets’ ‘intervene’ in ‘democracy’. Hayek would never have been so naive).

But as any historian or sociologist could tell you, markets are not natural. They arose in a specific time and a specific place. And they have always interacted with the ‘state’, in complex and profound ways. The markets ain’t free: they never have been, and never will be.

37

Chris Bertram 10.04.07 at 8:40 am

The stuff about party affiliation is ridiculous, since it is predicated on the absurd assumption that the US Democratic party is “left-wing”.

38

Bob B 10.04.07 at 8:57 am

“Remember, as JKG said, it’s the pursuit of a higher moral case of for selfishness that we’re after here.”

On reflection, there’s a straight forward, progressive way for rectifying the subversive influence of economics.

Just as Stalin conclude the agrarian problems of the Soviet Union could be effectively resolved by the elmination of the kulaks as a class . .

39

Bob B 10.04.07 at 11:11 am

If anyone feels impelled to attack the pervasive assumption of rational behaviour by individuals usually made in microeconomics, a good starting point is this by Prof Barry Schwartz, a psychologist, on: The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less (Harper, 2005):
http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005696/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-8396242-6570322?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1191495704&sr=8-1

Alternatively, try his (hour long) Google lecture on the the Paradox of Choice:
http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=6127548813950043200

The insight that people do not act rationally has been recognised in social science research at least since the series of Hawthorne Experiments starting in the 1920s:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

The logical problems of trying to identify in democratic political systems logically consistent social preferences were famously explored by Kenneth Arrow at 1951. Try:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow's_impossibility_theorem

40

Bob B 10.04.07 at 12:58 pm

Something evidently went wrong with the link above to: Arrow’s impossibility theorem.

Try instead:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow's_impossibility_theorem

41

Henry 10.04.07 at 1:00 pm

sebastian – you are being deliberately and trollishly stupid here. _Read the fucking post._ I say that there is genuine evidence that economics training pushes people further to the right but that heterodox economists exaggerate the degree of ideological uniformity in the profession. That is what these figures suggest. As best as I remember the relevant polls do a feelings thermometer on journalists and find that they are to the right of the mean respondent from the general population asking similar questions in similar polls. You are a smart guy who has interesting things to say, but you often have an unpleasant and unhelpful habit of reading posts and comments so as to construe them as saying the stupidest things that they can possibly say, even when they obviously aren’t saying these things. This is, I suspect, a lawyerly habit. It is also something that is not conductive to good discussion. Consider yourself warned.

42

Barry 10.04.07 at 1:28 pm

Henry,

“but you often have an unpleasant and unhelpful habit of reading posts and comments so as to construe them as saying the stupidest things that they can possibly say, ”

That’s Sebastian, the core. It’s not a habit, it’s what he does with very rare exceptions. It might have been exacerbated by lawyer training, but the basis is that he’s a hard-core right-winger.

43

Ragout 10.04.07 at 1:32 pm

Note that this alleged increase in conservatism is based on a survey with a response rate of 27% and a sample size of 231. The increase in conservatives from 10% 1st years to 23% 4+ years is probably of marginal statistical significance, if it’s statistically significant at all.

Further, students in the 4th year and later are older. And I’d guess that aging from, say, 24 to 28 has a pretty big effect on conservative leanings. Finally, some of these schools have a large drop-out rate. Do you think that maybe at Chicago and Stanford liberals are more likely than conservatives to drop out or transfer after the first year or two?

44

Matt Weiner 10.04.07 at 1:43 pm

Bob b, are you not the same Bob who once responded to accounts of police beating up supporters of the miners’ strike and then arresting them on false charges by going on about coal subsidies — as if the economic inefficiency of the strikers’ demands justified beating them up and railroading them? If so, you shouldn’t be so quick to invoke the specter of Stalin when someone you don’t like mildly suggests that a certain profession may have an ideological bias that has harmful effects.

If not, apologies, but you still shouldn’t do that. No one suggested reeducation camps or anything like that.

45

Henry 10.04.07 at 2:30 pm

ragout, you do realize that this comes across as being a little weak? When you thought that the article showed that there was no consistent effect on students’ ideology, you didn’t have any trouble whatsoever with confounding variables, cohort effects etc, or at least you didn’t see fit to advertise the fact if you did. When it transpired that it was you who had misread the piece, not I, you changed your tune on this. I’m also a little troubled by the way that you left out that rather ripe pair of sentences that followed immediately after the ones that you did quote (as I note above, they provide only anecdotal evidence, but anecdotal evidence that the author of the piece thought it worthwhile to report, and that cut against your interpretation of what he was trying to say). I say all this as someone who has actually been quite impressed by your contribution to methodological discussions over at Tim Lambert’s place, where your commitment to good intellectual standards seemed to trump what I believe to be your ideological druthers.

46

Grand Moff Texan 10.04.07 at 2:48 pm

Note that this alleged increase in conservatism is based on a survey with a response rate of 27% and a sample size of 231.

Further, students in the 4th year and later are older.

OK, so have we established that economics training moves students to the right or that economists make for shitty sociologists?

I’m still wondering what kind of “intervention” is “intervention” that needs explaining.
.

47

Demosthenes 10.04.07 at 3:02 pm

That said, Henry doesn’t possess a Sekrit Wingnut Dekoder Ring…

Meh, they’re overrated. Mine just translates everything to “drink your Ovaltine”.

48

Bob B 10.04.07 at 3:16 pm

Matt Weiner – Nothing quite like trying to resolve academic disputes by engaging in irrelevant personal attacks on extraneous issues, is there?

As it happens I was living and working in Yorkshire in close proximity to the most violent aspects of the mining strike of 1984/5 so I’m probably better placed to comment here on that strike than most.

The crucial fact is that the Yorkshire miners were never permitted to ballot on whether they wanted to strike in 1984. The miners were bullied into striking by intimidation – women clerical workers for the Coal Board in Yorkshire, who weren’t on strike, had to face abusive picket lines if they turned up for work. I personally witnessed abuse of miners who had returned early to work in 1985 because their pits opted to go back to work.

The Yorkshire branch of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) behaved very stupidly – not least because the Coal Board of the nationalised industry had built up substantial coal stocks at power stations before the strike as had been planned by Nicholas Ridley:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ridley_Plan

Knowledge of this plan was already in the public domain because it was reported in The Economist in the late 1970s (links have disappeared) and the NUM had its very own economic adviser: Professor Vic Allen:

“Vic Allen, 77, a former leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said he had ‘no regrets’ over providing information to the East German Stasi secret police.

“The retired Leeds University professor, from Keighley, North Yorkshire, said he did pass on information about CND’s activities. But he said he considered that perfectly legitimate because he belonged to a pro-Soviet, pro-East German faction of the group.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm

“Also named is Vic Allen, a retired professor of economics at Leeds university, who was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and went on the first Aldermaston march. A firm Stalinist, it is alleged he passed on information about CND to his East German handlers.

“After the revelation this weekend that he had been ‘an agent of influence’, he said he had no regrets. . .

“Prof Allen was an ally of Arthur Scargill during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. In 1987 he published a book, The Russians Are Coming. His pro-Soviet views were well known. . .”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,271697,00.html

Another fact is that other trade unions in Britain backed off supporting the miners – why do you suppose that was? It’s silly to treat economists as monolithic because they aren’t, any more than politicians, lawyers, trade unionists etc. are.

For those interested, the scale of subsidies to support the nationalised coal industry can be inferred from the data for the external borrowing requirements of the nationalised industries reported in David Butler: Twentieth-century British Political Facts 1900-2000 (Palgrave 2000) p.444. Ultimately, the violent strike was to bully the government and the public at large into paying even more taxpayers’ money to subsidise the coal industry.

49

Bruce Webb 10.04.07 at 5:19 pm

Sebastian’s problem is that he fails to maintain the distinction between ‘making’ an argument and ‘winning’ an argument. I don’t know if this is a result of legal training or perhaps a hangover from Usenet days when the rule on all too many groups was ‘last man standing’.

Advocacy has its place. Analysis has its place. Advocacy masquerading as analysis is both dishonest and thoroughly frustrating.

50

Grand Moff Texan 10.04.07 at 5:50 pm

Advocacy masquerading as analysis is both dishonest and thoroughly frustrating.

I thought that was the point.

As a survivor of the hotbed of American anti-intellectualism, I’m just offended that a conservative would pose as an intellectual. But I understand that the rest of the world is different, so I try to keep it from showing.
.

51

notsneaky 10.04.07 at 5:52 pm

Further, students in the 4th year and later are older.

OK, so have we established that economics training moves students to the right or that economists make for shitty sociologists?

Now we got it. What the study really says is that economics training makes students older by their 4th year. Damn you economics, you took away my youth!

52

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 6:18 pm

“You are a smart guy who has interesting things to say, but you often have an unpleasant and unhelpful habit of reading posts and comments so as to construe them as saying the stupidest things that they can possibly say, even when they obviously aren’t saying these things.”

Well then we are certainly two peas in a pod on that one. Though I will admit that you and d-squared bring out the worst in me, which doesn’t mean I should avoid resisting it. And just because you have a habit of intense condescension toward questions no matter how they are formulated is no reason for me to formulate them in a rude fashion. (See for a not-related-to-me example your most recent reply to ragout on this very thread)

Your original post either confuses or miscommunicates the distinction between moving in a rightward direction and moving onto the right. They aren’t the same. That confusion or miscommunication is reinforced by a similar problem with journalists in which you allude to an alleged right-tilt in their economic reporting.

All of this takes much too seriously the idea that right or left leaning ought to be an important distinction in economics. I’ve obviously not made it clear that my main concern is the silliness of that area of inquiry–though I was trying to address it as early as comment 14.

It is not an important independent ‘fact’ whether or not economic training drags someone to ‘the right’ or ‘the left’.

It is not an important independent ‘fact’ whether or not journalists are ‘to the right of center’ on economic reporting. (Though I seriously doubt that ‘fact’ is actually true in any case).

No one should care if journalists are to the right of center for their ‘views’ of economic issues or left of center in those views. The question is “are they reporting accurately”. If they are not reporting accurately, that is a problem and it may be interesting to see if their ‘bias’ has an effect.

Similarly, it isn’t a useful data point to note that economics graduate students move in a rightward direction as they gain training, except insofar as they are gaining actually useful or unuseful understanding.

53

Henry 10.04.07 at 6:52 pm

Sebastian – you personally, in all your wisdom, may not consider the issue of whether or not economics training leads to a rightward tilt an ‘important fact’ – but the people conducting the debate that was discussed in the linked article do. That’s why I linked to the survey. Nor did I ‘confuse’ or ‘miscommunicate’ anything. I said that the article provides evidence that “economics training pushes grad students further to the right,” which it quite obviously does. What’s at issue here is not that you disagree with me on what’s important or not. It’s that you persistently and repeatedly have chosen to misrepresent my argument, without acknowledging same when it’s been demonstrated that you do so. This makes for lousy debate – and if I respond harshly to you when you do this, it’s because you’re a repeat offender and I don’t see any particular reason to extend an assumption of good faith when you’re behaving badly. As I say, you’re on warning on this.

54

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 7:23 pm

If you believe that you are the model of clear communication, I’m clearly not going to disabuse you of the notion. It clearly is not just me, see your response to ragout above, and frankly if you’ve had a polite response to someone who even hinted at disagreeing with you in comments, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it.

“What’s at issue here is not that you disagree with me on what’s important or not.”

It kind of is, since that is what I was writing about.

“It’s that you persistently and repeatedly have chosen to misrepresent my argument, without acknowledging same when it’s been demonstrated that you do so.”

Your argument in this post is not at all clear. If it solely amounts to “I thought this was an interesting discussion but have offered no judgment on the question whatsoever” I’ve said why I think that a focus on poltical valence misdirects us from the important question of accuracy by inappropriately injecting political priors into the question.

I don’t think that accurately represents what you wrote (your intentions notwithstanding) but even if that is all that you MEANT, my response was indeed too harsh, but not misrepresentative of anything.

I suspect that you are annoyed by this statement which I made in comment #14: “It may very well be that economics training pushes grad students further to the right, but what conclusion you draw from that is much more likely to reveal one’s extra-economic judgments about how the world ought to work than it is about the validity of economic understanding….

In neither case does the data about which political direction economic training pushes you useful for discussions about the validity of a particular type of economic training.

Henry seems to think that it does. He is either miscommunicating, or incorrect.”

Now note your response at 21. Even if you believe that you are the perfect model of clear communication, you could easily have responded with, “No, I meant “X”. Your actual response was “No, You’re a jerk”. You may believe that that response “demonstrates” that I was “misrepresenting” your position but frankly it doesn’t. At the very most it demonstrates that what I thought you were saying isn’t what you thought you were saying, but considering that #21 has zero explanatory content, all I know is that you think I’m a jerk for not understanding what you meant.

Unless I’m misunderstanding that too? Maybe you meant 21 to explain it, and I just got confused.

55

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 8:11 pm

Now see, that last line was totally unnecessary. So you’re quite right that I can be unnecessarily snippy. :)

56

Henry 10.04.07 at 8:53 pm

Sebastian – if you had been a new commenter I probably would have responded in that way. But this isn’t the first time that you’ve pulled this kind of stunt, and to be perfectly honest I have much better things to do with my life than to repeatedly correct people who persist in reading me in quite peculiar ways which aren’t justified by the text. I therefore tend to get snippy when people do it on a reasonably regular basis.

And you _still_ don’t accept that you were ‘misrepresenting’ my position??? You were claiming, let me remind you, that I was “[hinting] that the cited fact is somehow important to the question of the validity of traditional economic thinking” and that I apparently believed that “the data about which political direction economic training pushes you useful for discussions about the validity of a particular type of economic training.” There wasn’t anything in the post that even mentioned issues about the validity of “traditional economic thinking” or “a particular type of economic training,” let alone sought to draw connections from the survey results to them. And for good reason – as you yourself noted, making these kinds of causal claims would be to make a stupid argument. Instead – as I stated, in quite plain language, I was commenting on an empirical dispute between ‘heterodox’ and ‘orthodox’ economists, discussed in the article that I linked to, over whether traditional economics training pushed people towards a more right wing, pro-market point of view. You summarize this, again misleadingly, as “I thought this was an interesting discussion but have offered no judgment on the question whatsoever.” The question on which I was offering a judgment was that of whether economics training did push people to the right in the way that heterodox economists say that it does. The empirical claim that it does _has no necessary bearing_ on the question of whether or not this putative political shift is good or bad. Nor did I seek to make any claims about whether it was good or bad, despite your attempts (on the basis of no discernible textual evidence whatsoever) to claim that I did. You may find the question of whether it is good or bad the more interesting and fundamental one; but I’m perfectly entitled to post about what _I_ find interesting (or more precisely, what I think can fairly be said on the basis of existing evidence). In short, you gave the first part of the post a political spin that existed in your head and nowhere else.

It may possibly be that I’m a poor and confused writer – I’m obviously not the best nor most impartial judge of that. However, there isn’t any evidence of that from this discussion section that I can see – you seem to be quite unique in coming to, and defending, your own particular interpretation of what I’m saying. You cite to ragout as someone else who was apparently confused. Perhaps he was – but he doesn’t give any evidence of it in his response. Instead, he attacks the specific factual claims that I make in the post, claiming that there isn’t any support for them in the academic article that I link to. When I point out that he has in fact misread this article and missed the relevant bit, he modifies his claims to say that the results are statistically weak. Neither of these comments suggests any confusion as to what I’m claiming that I can see. My working hypothesis – until and unless I see a more general consensus that I’m a bad writer – is that the problem is instead that you’re (sometimes) a bad reader. You wanted to read this post (specifically the first few sentences) through a specifically partisan lens as saying that the evidence of a shift to the right is ipso facto evidence of the invalidity of economics, despite the fact that I never said anything about the validity or invalidity of economics (a subject on which I have many quite complicated opinions that I haven’t talked about here). When it was pointed out to you – rudely I agree – that this reading was bogus, you decided to double up.

In short, the reason that I said (as you summarize it) that you’re a jerk is because you were acting like one. Doubtless it would be more Christian of me to turn the other cheek (and doubtless you find this kind of sarcasm evidence of my high-handedness, annoyingness, condescension etc). But I’m interested in good conversation, not in suffering jerkishness gladly – and when people repeatedly behave in certain ways I tend to get irate and to express my iration to make it clear that this isn’t acceptable behaviour.

57

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 9:32 pm

“But I’m interested in good conversation, not in suffering jerkishness gladly – and when people repeatedly behave in certain ways I tend to get irate and to express my iration to make it clear that this isn’t acceptable behaviour.”

And I feel much the same way about your high-handed attitude to anyone questioning you. It isn’t just me–it shows up on all ends of the ideological spectrum and through all sorts of questions. Hardly a post of yours goes by where you can’t be found using the exact same type of attacks against non-Sebastian actors. And it is exceedingly rare for you to actually respond to anyone in any other fashion in the comments. Do a little search for your own comments in your own posts and count for yourself.

“You cite to ragout as someone else who was apparently confused. Perhaps he was – but he doesn’t give any evidence of it in his response.”

Actually I didn’t. I cited YOUR RESPONSE TO RAGOUT as an example of you having “a habit of intense condescension toward questions no matter how they are formulated”. Your use of sarcasm in such being well noted.

That was evidenced by your comment to (or more correctly ‘at’) ragout in #45.

“My working hypothesis – until and unless I see a more general consensus that I’m a bad writer – is that the problem is instead that you’re (sometimes) a bad reader.”

I’m sure that is comforting. I fully admit that I have misread things in the past and almost certainly will again in the future. Finding my error is of course somewhat easier when the response is “No I meant, X” rather than “You’re a jerk for thinking I said V and I refuse to tell you anything more than that”. Since it is your habit, in your comments, to your posts, to do the latter, to people who aren’t me, and it is not your habit in your comments to do the former for most, I have trouble believing the problem is mostly mine.

Does my tone make the problem WORSE sometimes? Absolutely. And for that part, I apologize.

58

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.04.07 at 9:54 pm

Guilty of exaggeration–to be precise, I should say that hardly a post of yours goes by (when you are willing or have time to respond in comments)…

I know we are both nit-pickers so I don’t want to leave that one out. ;)

59

Matt Weiner 10.04.07 at 11:04 pm

Matt Weiner – Nothing quite like trying to resolve academic disputes by engaging in irrelevant personal attacks on extraneous issues, is there?

If you don’t want to be the subject of personal attacks, don’t contribute to academic debates by comparing your opponents to Stalin.

As for the rest of the comment, you say “The crucial fact is that the Yorkshire miners were never permitted to ballot on whether they wanted to strike in 1984.” This (which Chris acknowledged in the original post and said was wrong in principle as well as tactically) is supposed to be the crucial fact in response to allegations (undisputed by you) that the police beat and railroaded strikers?

60

Robert 10.05.07 at 12:04 am

I don’t understand Matt Weiner’s point or the history here.

Given the frequent purges of even mildly heterodox economists (e.g., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Harvard, Columbia, Rutgers, Notre Dame), it’s not surprising that some have compared mainstream economists to Stalinists. See Hodgson quote at: http://robertvienneau.blogspot.com/2007/03/neoclassicalism-as-lysenkoism-in-u-k.html

61

Matt Weiner 10.05.07 at 1:09 am

Robert, Bob is comparing mainstream economists to kulaks, and progressives who express mild displeasure with the economists’ ideological bent to Stalin. He seems to be suggesting that progressives want to murder economists as a class, the way that Stalin murdered kulaks. Even as hyperbole I thought that was well over the line.

62

goatchowder 10.05.07 at 2:08 am

This whole left-right duality seems really primitive and coarse to me.

It’s astounding how much ink gets wasted by people accusing each other of being “left” or “right”… as if all opinion on any matter, economic, social, or political, has to be shoved into this single gray box.

It’s particularly obsolete nowadays, too.

63

Walt 10.05.07 at 2:33 am

Henry was too polite to Ragout. This is a really stupid thing to say:

Note that this alleged increase in conservatism is based on a survey with a response rate of 27% and a sample size of 231. The increase in conservatives from 10% 1st years to 23% 4+ years is probably of marginal statistical significance, if it’s statistically significant at all.

64

Ragout 10.05.07 at 2:33 am

Henry,

I think that the evidence I cited is a lot stronger than the evidence you cited. Asking people if their ideology has changed over the last few years has the huge advantage of comparing a fixed group of people over time. Besides aging, the only potentially serious problem I see is that people are often not honest with themselves, so I don’t know if I believe self-reports about changes in ideology. Any other potential problems are pretty subtle.

But the evidence you cited compares one highly selected group to another highly selected group. The problems are tremendous. I mentioned a few, but I could have mentioned many more. I didn’t even get into cohort effects, but as you note, they’re another pretty serious problem for the data you cite (consider the effect of 9/11 or recessions).

And you’re knocking me for not citing an anecdote that supports your view, when you failed to mention the survey evidence that cuts against your claims? Give me a break.

And to the others who are not impressed by my observation that 5th-year students are older than 1st-year students: I didn’t spell it out, because I thought it was too obvious, but it’s widely believed that older people are more conservative. Certainly I can cite opinion polls that suggest that people become more conservative as they age, whether or not they’ve been brainwashed by economists. My speculation is that the years after college see a lot of this shift. Surely you’ve heard the joke that begins, “anyone under 30 who’s not a socialist has no heart…”

65

Ragout 10.05.07 at 2:35 am

Walt,

If it’s a stupid thing to say, I imagine you’ll have no trouble spelling it out. I’m willing to explain statistical significance to you, if that’s the issue.

66

Ragout 10.05.07 at 2:56 am

Oh, and how come my cogent, well-reasoned, and insightful reply to Henry is “awaiting moderation,” while comments calling me “stupid” and a “shitty sociologist” sail right through?

67

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.05.07 at 7:20 am

As I said, it isn’t just me…

68

Kevin Donoghue 10.05.07 at 8:36 am

Ragout to Henry: Oh, and how come my cogent, well-reasoned, and insightful reply to Henry is “awaiting moderation,” while comments calling me “stupid” and a “shitty sociologist” sail right through?

Perhaps because your quotation “anyone under 30…” uses the S-word. I believe it has been pointed out before that the filter is suspicious of that term – I’ve no idea why.

Ragout to Walt: I’m willing to explain statistical significance to you, if that’s the issue.

I don’t know about Walt, but I’m always interested in your ideas about statistics and I would certainly welcome an explanation of your claim, which he disparaged. I couldn’t make sense of it.

69

dsquared 10.05.07 at 8:55 am

I believe it has been pointed out before that the filter is suspicious of that term – I’ve no idea why.

basically, because the third through eighth letters are the name of a product which is heavily marketed through the medium of comments spam.

70

Ragout 10.05.07 at 1:02 pm

Here’s Henry’s evidence that econ school makes you more conservative. The survey interviewed 231 students, including about 50 1st-year students, of whom about 5 said they were conservative. It interviewed about 80 students in their 4th year and later, of whom 18 or so said they were conservative. Perhaps the point I didn’t make clear is that these are different sets of people, not the same group of people 4 years later?

Here’s my evidence that econ school has no consistent effect on political views. The 231 students were also asked if their views had changed while in school. About as many said they became more liberal as said they became more conservative (most said their views didn’t change). This isn’t perfect, but it’s much stronger than the figures Henry cited.

71

Bob B 10.05.07 at 1:13 pm

#61 Matt Weiner – You must be really hard pressed to post anything sensible and relevant here. Try addressing the (substantive) issues of #39 instead of engaging in irrelevant personal attacks. Economists aren’t anywhere nearly monolithic in their views so there is little point in lumping all together.

Making an assumptions of pervasive rationality and individual pursuit of personal gain in human bahaviour, which are not supported by the evidence. However, economists are looking for a box of analytical tools to enable them to better understand some aspects of social behaviour and – as Joan Robinson of blessed leftist memory once famously wrote – if anyone knows of a better assumption to make of individual behaviour than rational pursuit of personal interest then go for it.

It could be more frutiful here to pick up on the long held methodological position of the Chicago school of economics: science regularly makes simplifying assumptions in constructing theories – what matters is whether the theories yield falsifiable predictions which survive repeated testing.

72

Bob B 10.05.07 at 1:15 pm

Apologies for bad editing.

73

Henry 10.05.07 at 5:17 pm

ragout – there isn’t in fact any very strong reason to believe that the data you cite to is any better – it just has different problems. Respondents’ answers to questions about what their political opinions used to be, how they have changed over time etc are notoriously unreliable – this is a problem that survey research people spend a lot of time trying to deal with. People’s memories of the ideological positions that they used to have changes when their ideological position changes. The problem is that asking this question precisely _doesn’t_ have the “advantage of comparing a fixed group of people over time” – for that you would need a longitudinal survey design asking people the same questions at different periods so that you can measure actual changes. Unfortunately, asking people themselves whether and how their beliefs have changed over time is not a good substitute at all.

Nor is a response rate of 27% especially unusual or necessarily a cause for concern in the absence of good ex ante reason to believe that the non-responders are very different from the responders (maybe there is some such, but I can’t think of it – obviously it would still be nice if the author had provided some decent data on what the non-responders looked like in other ways). Finally, the aging effects that you refer to are actually more contested in the literature (as best I understand it – I am a consumer rather than a producer) than you might think. The one clear result of the survey literature is that party identification is very stable indeed, and is mostly fixed at a youngish age (there are different models out there of how this happens – Chris Achen’s Bayesian approach is the one that I am most familiar with and I believe is pretty influential). Ideologies do change – but less than you would expect – and any putative aging effects are likely to be relatively slight over the short time period early in one’s working life that we are talking about. There is some work I believe arguing that the _openness_ of people to change ideologies varies dramatically at different points in people’s lives – you are much more open to switching positions early in your life, and relatively unlikely later – but this is quite different (and indeed perhaps supports the proposition that training of type _x_ shapes your political opinions in important and long term ways). There may be cohort effects here too (but again, in the absence of good evidence to the contrary, I suspect they aren’t extraordinarily important – the life experiences of generations a couple of years apart are not usually very different from each other).

Sebastian – I’ve taken a quick look at the most recent posts I’ve done where I got involved in controversy in the comments sections – this https://crookedtimber.org/2007/09/27/man-of-the-year/, this https://crookedtimber.org/2007/09/21/buergerlich/ were the two on the first page where I remember disagreeing with people. I don’t think they support your claims. Very likely my sarcasm – when I use it – exacerbates things – it certainly seems to get under your skin a bit. But, as stated, you do very often come into posts with an interpretation that no-one else seems to have, and that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual claims that I have made. I’d feel a _lot_ more sympathetic if you could point to the place in this post where I hinted, as you claimed, that “the cited fact is somehow important to the question of the validity of traditional economic thinking” or where I lent support to the mistaken idea that “data about which political direction economic training pushes you [is] useful for discussions about the validity of a particular type of economic training.” Those are the claims you made about what I was saying – I don’t see anywhere in the text where I said anything at all to that effect.

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