Thursday, April 7, 2011

Economists' Unusual Ethics

“If you think government should get off our backs and encourage self-reliance – for moral reasons of course – you probably think cutting it will be good for the economy too.
If you think the government should help people more, you probably also think with uncanny conformity that this would be good for economic growth.
Whatever our morality, it’s efficient. Funny that.
Speaking of economists’ unusual morality, here are the number of deaths per terawatt of energy. If nuclear still scores as well next month, the suggestion (to economists) will be that we aren’t killing enough people via nuclear and killing far too many by coal. Of course, we also aren’t killing enough people with wind and water power .

On the economics and ethics of red light cameras (they give you a ticket if you drive through a red light). The economic incentive for the companies running them is to have a shorter yellow signal so they catch more people. That also leads to more accidents and fatalities, even though the cameras are designed to reduce accidents by getting more people to not speed through.

Those stories are about economics as moral philosophy. Are we scientists? One of the arguments against us being a “hard” science is that we’re not very good at forecasting. Sumner retorts, “Are physicists very good at predict earthquakes, tornadoes, heat waves, etc?  Obviously not.  … Physicists claim that their models explain those phenomena, so we have just as much right to expect them to predict tsunamis as we have to ask economists to predict recessions.”d

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