Thursday, December 10, 2009

Easterly on the Growthgate

Easterly writes on what would be the economics equivalent of the Climategate, with equal or worse consequences: too much politicking and misguided use of data in economic growth research, or what he calls the Growthgate.

The problem here, as with climate change, is that science has also been captured by governments and interest groups. In his own words:
Of course, the policy world abhors the great Vacuum of Ignorance, which opens the door to empty pontificators like a certain bestselling writer of books about Flat Worlds, in which You Cannot Have Growth Unless You Do Precisely What I Tell You.

Carden extends Easterly's point to the recent successful discrediting of previously accepted but biased minimum wage research:

Climategate is going to make a lot of scholars across disciplines think very, very hard about what they're doing. The reaction to the Card & Krueger minimum wage paper is a feather in the cap of the economics profession. C&K appeared in the American Economic Review and was subjected to thorough examination and criticism before the bulk of the evidence came down on the side of competitive models of the labor market (cf. Neumark and Wascher).

Some have been suggesting that this kind of scientific corruption is expected, that politics inevitably affects the scientific method, so we shouldn't bother. I don't like the argument. As it's the case with corruption in any human action, the response shouldn't be leniency, it should be instead a critique of existing incentives and institutions and a cry for ethical behavior, Cato the Younger style. After all, the latter two are perfectly acceptable self-regulatory social interaction mechanisms.

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