Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Repose on political economics

I’ve been busy at work and home over the past week, but I thought it was time I responded to a commenter last week on this post about Obama and the politics of change (or not so much change).

The comment is in response to this part of my post:

      But should you announce to the world that you’re an economist while endorsing and campaigning for a guy who’s proposing to increase the size of government by hundreds of billions of dollars?  And with all the tax cuts he's proposing, is anything he says on the issue even realistic?  What are they teaching economists these days?

Here’s his response to that:

      So economics is a solved field then? There's only one valid viewpoint and strict adherence to it is the only means by which to proceed in the field.

      Look, the Chicago school (and rational choice theory in general) is as dominant today as it was at any other period - but that doesn't mean it's the sole "logical" stricture within the discipline.

      Furthermore, that's variance within chosen theory. In terms of application you essentially assume that anyone who does not embrace libertarian viewpoints is "wrong" or doesn't know what s/he's talking about; and that's just flat out wrong.
      It's a bogus assumption and either you know it and enjoy basking in the comfort of solipsism as justification or you simply have no understanding of the issue you are actually addressing.

Ok.  He’s got me on a good point.  I’m not an expert in economics, but I do know a little about it.   I do realize that there are many different theories regarding economics, and that none of them operate in the real world.  Theories are theoretical systems mean to try and explain what’s happening in the real world.  Sometimes you come closer than others, but most of the time you can’t completely explain how the world works with just a theoretical explanation. 

The commenter guesses, because of my disdain for government intervention in the economy and dissing of Republicans on that point,  that I’m a libertarian, which is only sort of true.   Like most Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians) my roundish peg doesn’t quite fit into that square hole.  Nor does my belief in the Chicago or neoclassical economic theory.  Like Keynesians who believe that there’s a balance between government and the market, I believe there’s a roll for government in the economy, and it’s an important one, but a very limited one (unlike Keynesians).

To me, it seems that most Democrat and Republican politicians subscribe to the Keynesian schools of economics in varying amounts.  Daily they call for government action regarding some economic arena, but mostly this is just political self-serving behavior.  Politicians believe that the public likes to see them doing something about people’s economic woes, even if that action is detrimental to the system as a whole. 

Economists, whatever you might say about them, are generally not short term thinkers.  Each action within an economic system has far reaching implications over the long term.  Politicians are by nature short-term thinkers, and therefore, regardless of whatever economic theory they claim to hold to, they will instead act in accordance to political gain, and will easily leave good economic theory in the dumpster like an abandoned infant.

Which is why I think it’s unfair of the commenter to complain about why I scoffed at the guy on the street.  It’s not that I feel an economist is foolish to vote for one candidate or another, it’s that I think it’s foolish for an economist to promote any Democrats, or Republicans, because his education and experience tells him that any one candidates economic goals are more reasonable.  At this point I don’t find either Obama’s or McCain’s platforms reasonable in their entirety, and am not all that confident that the reasonable portions of their platforms will ever be implemented.

I need to respond to another part of the comment:

      I read your blog because geography is cool, but if you are going to talk about a specific field as if you hold expert knowledge in it - actually do.

I hear you there, and I’ve been a bit more political in my posts than in the past.  It’s way past time for me to talk about some of the places I’ve visited recently and geographic issues I’ve been reading about. 

But dude, this isn’t a geography magazine.  This is my blog.  I do think geography is cool, but sometimes I don’t have anything geographic to say, but have some very political things to say, and I’m going to say them.  Free country and all.


Anonymous said...

Nice Response. :)

I didn't mean to imply you fit perfectly into a classical libertarian peg, simply that from what I've read you have strong leanings. I personally meander somewhere between theoretical anarchist and applied... not so much.

Also, regarding the final point - I more meant to suggest that if you present yourself as condescending/disparaging to a field, it's usually because you hold expert knowledge in it; not that your blog must only be about geography.

I can't make up a name, so I suppose I'll have to sign the post (something I find as anathema to my internet sensibilities).

Richard said...

Thanks, J.