David R. Henderson  

Hooray For Our Side

PRINT
Legal in some states, life imp... The Divisiveness of Cohesion...

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
--Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth"

Now that I've had more time to think about the economists' statement against Trump, I've figured out more specifically what bothers me about it. It's the item I mentioned yesterday, but I find it even more troubling than I did.

Here's the bullet point I highlighted, and it's the first point they make:

He degrades trust in vital public institutions that collect and disseminate information about the economy, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by spreading disinformation about the integrity of their work.

I challenged the wisdom of putting that point first because it's one of the weakest points they could make compared to the others and, I suggested, it makes the economists signing it look nerdy and self-interested.

But I think I understand better why the writers of the statement led with that bullet point. I think it's because this is one of their strongest objections to Trump. I thought back to a prominent economist I know who's a fairly mild-mannered man and also a fairly free-market guy whom I've seen twice now in public forums get very upset against Republicans in Congress who want to cut funding of government data collection. I've never seen him get that upset at anything else the government has done. (We're also on pretty friendly terms and so, no, I'm not going to name him.)

If their goal had been to do the maximum to persuade people not to vote for Trump, there is no way they would have led with that statement. I think that a lot of what people do when discussing politics is mostly say "Hooray for our side."


Comments and Sharing






COMMENTS (4 to date)
Ben writes:

"I thought back to a prominent economist I know who's a fairly mild-mannered man and also a fairly free-market guy whom I've seen twice now in public forums get very upset against Republicans in Congress who want to cut funding of government data collection. I've never seen him get that upset at anything else the government has done." It's a very wonky position, but I have some sympathy for this guy's attitude. Choosing bad policies is one thing. Reasonable people disagree about what is a bad policy and what isn't, and so while I may disagree – strongly! – with some policies, I don't necessarily lose respect for people who advocate them, if they have thoughtful arguments for their choice. But choosing to eliminate data collection is a deeper evil. It prevents you from even being able to tell which policies are good and which are bad (on a utilitarian, consequentialist basis, anyway). It makes it impossible to even have reasonable debate about policies, since there is no empirical data upon which to base argument. It forces us to revert to simple bias and might-makes-right. And it is an irreparable mistake – once you have a hole in your dataset, from a failure to collect data in a given time period, there is generally no way to patch that hole, and your dataset will be flawed forever after.

Justin writes:

There seems to be two theories consistent with the idea in this post

(1) This is the most important issue to the writer of the petition.

(2) The writer believes this is the most important issue to potential signers of the document. Therefore emphasizing it is the rational choice for a petition writer wishing to maximize signatures, which is the outcome that will maximize the letter's impact.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Justin,
Right.
In case (1), my criticism applies to the writer.
In case (2), my criticism applies to the signers.

Eli writes:

Ben wrote: "But choosing to eliminate data collection is a deeper evil."

Well, maybe; but details matter here as always. About ten years ago when my first son was born I was given a birth certificate application form by the hospital here in MA. Among the data it asked for were various details concerning income, employment, family structure, language spoken at home, and (!) religion. I didn't much care for any of this, since I felt it was all completely beside the point as far as birth certificate issuance goes, and nosy as heck, to boot, and politely told the nurse so, to which she replied "Sorry, it's a state requirement, and the software into which we enter the data won't process the birth certificate request with fields left empty".

It was pretty obvious to me that some group of social scientists (perhaps even including economists) had gotten the fine folks on Beacon Hill to pass a law mandating this nonsense, in the interest of generating data that they could then use in their work. And it really chapped my . . . err . . . sense of propriety that they would take this route rather than going about it honestly, spending their own money and shoe-leather (or their grad students' shoe leather, at least) to get what they needed.

So yes, data's good, but how it's collected is important, and I don't have much confidence that any of the other government data collection efforts whose products we might value use methods that are any less coercive, intrusive, or downright ugly than the one I experienced.

BTW, when my second son was born a couple of years later, the most offensive questions were gone from the birth certificate application. Why, I never learned.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top