Bryan Caplan  

Economists' Self-Conception

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Robin grants much of my critique of dealism.  Then he offers a bet:

Imagine that economists were surveyed and had to choose how they'd best like to describe economic policy recommendations, as:

  1. Morals - Arguing for the morality of actions,
  2. Deals - Helping groups find and make deals, or
  3. Showing Off - Academics do hard things in order to be certified by other academics as impressive, so that students, patrons, and readers can gain status by affiliation with them. Economic policy analysis is such a hard thing.

I'd bet that at least 25% would choose option #2, and even more among those whose style leans sci/tech.

With those three options, I'd expect the breakdown to be roughly 15% morals, 80% deals, and 5% showing off.  But that's just because Robin omits two popular response options:

4. Social Welfare - Identifying the policies that are best for society as a whole.

5. Smart Partisanship - Identifying the most efficient way to advance the political goals you identify with.

With these extra options on the table, I'd bet on a breakdown of 5% morals (which sounds medieval to most economists), 20% deals, 5% showing off, 50% social welfare, and 20% smart partisanship.  Do you disagree, Robin?

P.S. Maybe we could get this on the next Kauffman bloggers' survey?


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COMMENTS (4 to date)
ThomasL writes:

I wonder how Robin handles the possibility of signaling within poll answers.

If I think that answering "Social Welfare" makes me look like the "right kind of person", I may answer that whether I care about the welfare of people or not.

Poll anonymity alone is not sufficient to reveal "true" answers, because there is no guarantee I won't signal my answers in other ways, or that I might not answer "social welfare" as a low-cost way feeling good about myself (a kind of self-reflected signal).

Pandaemoni writes:

I would think that dealism is a subset of "social welfare." Nobody wants to facilitate deals for their own sake, they want to facilitate them because deals tend to improve social welfare of society as a whole (often two parties at a time).

Likewise many could see "smart partisanship" as being part of either "morals" or "social welfare." Almost everyone thinks their political ideology is either compelled by morality or compelled by the boon such ideology would create to society as a whole if more widely followed. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who thought their political ideology was immoral and wouldn't improve society at all.

joeftansey writes:

My gut is that "morals" and "social welfare" mean the same thing to most economists.

I don't know of any pro-social-welfare economists who think they're doing something immoral.

Ari T writes:

Is there even a big difference between deals and social welfare? I'd imagine people who support deals supporting many policies supporting social welfare, and vice versa.

In any case I don't understand why you are so prone to talk down dealism, or rather preference utilitarianism. I'd imagine most philosophers, academics and economists would rather support that than libertarianism. I'm talking about meta-ethics here, not practical public policy.

In fact I think in the future, efficiency analysis will probably prevail, and axiomatic rights will be considered mere tradition at least when big efficiency losses are at stake. But that's just a guess.

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