Pursuit of Truthiness

my gut tells me I know economics

Ignoring Economics: Tactics for Beginners and Advanced Practitioners

with one comment

President Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 in last night’s State of the Union speech. A lot of economists will take this as a personal affront, wondering how people still think this is a good idea after we explain in every MicroEcon 101 class how it will backfire and result in poor people losing their jobs and losing non-wage benefits. If you are determined to support a minimum wage, you could simply ignore all these arguments, but this beginner tactic will leave you looking ignorant.

A more advanced tactic for not having to change your mind about the minimum wage allows you to know two things instead of none. You can know the Econ 101 arguments, and also know about Card and Kreuger’s 1996 empirical study showing how the minimum wage might not affect unemployment. Pull out your pocket copy of Card and Kreuger’s paper whenever someone brings up the topic.

Be careful, though, not to take this whole “acquiring new information” thing too far. Remember that your goal isn’t to understand how the world works, but rather to keep the beliefs you started with. Don’t develop a general rule of looking at the academic literature on a subject: this would lead you to do things like read other papers about the minimum wage, but the vast majority suggest problems with it. Don’t decide that David Card and Alan Kreuger are the most trustworthy economists- this would mean you need to take their other work seriously, and then you would have to change your mind about immigration or occupational licensing. Remember, reasoning works by starting with a conclusion you like, and then looking for information that supports it. Otherwise you might have to admit you were wrong!

Obviously this is my poor attempt at a joke. More seriously, as a researcher I worry that even when people do seem to be interested in your work, it is only because it confirms their prior beliefs. Alan Kreuger is a great econometrician and managed to become an advisor to the President. This could be a great opportunity for his work to inform which policies to choose, but instead his work is either ignored or used as a decoration for policies that would be pushed anyway. So, depsair.

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Written by James Bailey

February 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on Economics and Other Petty Things and commented:
    James’ post reflects on a feeling that is common among economists; the weariness of having your discipline’s basic insight completely disregarded by policy makers, even though widely agreed upon and taught everywhere. The same anti-intellectual behavior is rightfully looked down upon with regards to environmental and climate studies, yet somehow remains acceptable when it comes to economics.

    Check out his research on Health Economics: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=1356279

    Mathieu Bédard

    February 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm


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