Sanjay Reddy on economics

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 13, 2012

Hear hear! What a wonderful short interview with Sanjay Reddy by Perry Mehrling from the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET):

Reddy defends the position that economics is a profoundly value-entangled science, and that “Good theory is theory which illuminates the world, and good theory cannot start from a-priori premises which are disconnected from the world. Good theory has to start in part from observation from the world.”

I agree with every word Reddy says, but am a bit puzzled why Mehrling sees Reddy’s position as ‘a strong position’. In my view, if it is regarded (by economists?) as a ‘strong position’, that is just because economics has so forcefully tried to distance itself from any evaluative or otherwise ethical concerns; but in truth, economics has never been value-free, it has only fooled itself that it could be so. I’m really glad that Reddy is contributing to a better understanding of economics as value-entangled. Can’t wait to read the result of his INET project, “a book making a broad case for the resurrection of normative reasoning in economics”.

Wealth Problems

by Henry Farrell on January 13, 2012

John Sides “posts some results”: suggesting that while voters mostly understand that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are rich, they are more likely to think that Mitt Romney doesn’t care about their interests because he is rich, than Barack Obama.

bq. The better one thinks “personally wealthy” describes Romney, the better one thinks that “cares about the wealthy” describes him (the correlation is 0.60). But the same correlation for Obama is much smaller (0.18). People’s perception that Obama is personally wealth[y] does not translate as strongly into the perception that he cares about the wealthy. Moreover, people who perceive that Obama cares about the wealthy are actually a bit MORE likely to perceive that he cares about “people like me,” the poor, and the middle class. The correlations are not always large, but they are positive—e.g., the correlation between believing Obama cares about the wealthy and cares about “people like me” is 0.19.

This obviously has implications for the kind of ‘how the 2012 US presidential elections are likely to play out’ questions that we usually don’t have much to say about here at CT (our partial reticence doing its little bit to cancel out the volubility on this topic in the rest of the political blogosphere). But there is a more interesting general point – _should_ people think that the Democrats are more likely than the Republicans to be biased in favor of the rich.

Interestingly, this survey suggests that public opinion sort-of accords with what evidence we have. Larry Bartels has carried out research on the US Senate (which for a variety of reasons makes it easier to do useful comparisons than e.g. with presidents). And his findings suggest the following. First – if you look at a set of politically salient issues, senators from both parties are totally unresponsive to the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution. Second, that Republicans don’t care about the views of voters in the middle of the income distribution either, while Democrats do care significantly. Third, that Republicans care almost three times as much as Democrats about the views of those in the top third of the distribution. Overall, senators tend to be much more responsive to the opinions of better off people than of middle income people, and don’t care at all about the bottom third. These measures are of course somewhat crude – if one had better data, one could subdivide the population further (top 10%, top 1%), and perhaps find an even more striking relationship.

The New Gmail Sucks

by Henry Farrell on January 13, 2012

Doesn’t it though? It looks horrible. The interface is badly designed. Keyboard short cuts do unexpected things like e.g. make your email disappear irrevocably. And while you can temporarily revert back to the old look, they make it clear that they are going to impose the new one on everyone soon, like it or not. Finally, if you do revert to the old style, a ‘switch to the new look’ pop-up keeps on coming up on the lower right hand of the screen, persistently nudging you to accept your destiny like a demented jack-in-the-box from a Thaler/Sunstein scripted horror movie.

It used to be that Google claimed that their motto was ‘don’t be evil.’ Now it appears to be ‘I’m sorry, but we have to be evil to compete with Facebook.’ It was bad enough when they got rid of the social features from Google Reader (which worked _very nicely_ to allow you to see what other people with interesting tastes were looking at), because they wanted to force everyone over to Google Plus. And don’t get me started on the new social search stuff. But crippling Gmail is going too far.

I invite readers who (a) have similar sentiments, and (b) have their own blogs to write posts with the word “gmail” hyperlinked to this post, in order to see whether we can get a bit of a googlebomb going. If nothing else, it would be an interesting experiment in algorithmic politics. Google claim that they can do nothing to help Santorum wipe himself clean of Santorum. But would they tweak their algorithm if their own product were the target? It would be interesting to see.

Truth, truthiness and balance

by John Q on January 13, 2012

Arthur Brisbane, Public Opinion editor for the NY Times, has copped a well deserved shellacking for a column in which he asked whether reporters should act as ‘truth vigilantes’ in relation to statements made by public figures.

Having observed the silliness of asking whether newspapers should (aspire to) tell the truth, the obvious question is: How should they telll it. Here are a some suggestions

1. Its unreasonable to expect reporters to take the burden from scratch in refuting zombie lies. Newspapers, including the NYT, should include a set of factual conclusions, regularly updated, in their style manuals. The most relevant current example is that of global warming. As with the current account deficit (routinely glossed as ‘the broadest measure of the balance of payments’) the NYT should formulate a standard set of words, such as “a conclusion endorsed by every major scientific organization in the world’) to be used whenever the views of Repubs on the issue are mentioned. Similarly, any reference to claims about ‘Climategate’ should include the words ‘a conspiracy theory refuted by a number of inquiries in the US and UK’. Rinse and repeat wrt evolution, the Ryan budget plan etc


2. If the approach suggested above, it will rapidly become apparent that Republicans lie all of the time about everything, whereas Democrats only lie some of the time about some things. A serious paper of record would acknowledge this, noting the partial exceptions like Jon Huntsman. That is, if the NYT were reallly serious about truth, it would gloss every statement by a Repub as (X, a member of the Republican Party claimed Y. Extensive studies by the NYT have shown that most statements by members of the Republican party are false. In this case …)


3. This is a sad state of affairs, just as its sad that Americans won’t have a chance to vote for a serious  Presidential candidate who opposes indefinite detention of innocent people. But that is the situation and organizations like the NYT have limited choices – they can either publish lies or be ‘truth vigilantes’.