Monday, February 7, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due (II)

Media and journalists cover news in a selective way: some news sources receive more coverage, other sources are relatively neglected; the views and opinions of some agents are ubiquitous, others are nowhere to be found; some subjects are covered, others are not.

A valuable illustration of the above is presented in the report "Covering the Great Recession" (October, 2009), hosted by the Pew Center:

"Those in government, and especially Obama administration staffers, dominated the conversation [my comment: about the GFC]. Representatives of business and industry came next, followed by academics and independent observers. But the voices of ordinary citizens and people in the workplace trailed behind, appearing in only about one in every five stories." (see here)

Whatever the reasons, the consequence is that the public gets a biased, partial, view of reality; and a view that is often biased by the perceptions of "academics and independent observers".

Let's leave aside the fact that the ideas and recommendations of many of these "academics and independent observers" were behind the current global financial crisis, and, thus, have demonstrably questionable scientific value. [*]

These ideas, apart from their inability to describe, explain, and predict reality, almost inevitably contain unacknowledged biases, sometimes due to vested interests, sometimes due to the academics' and "independent" observers' ideological backgrounds.

Referring to vested interests, Prof. Nancy Folbre (University of Massachusetts Amherst) asked: "When economists speak, whom do they speak for?"

The answer, suggested by Charles Ferguson (here), Gerald Epstein & Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth (here) and by The New York Times (here) is that often they could be effectively speaking for private interests, as if it was for the common good.

Referring mainly to ideological bias, Prof. Uwe E. Reinhardt (Princeton University), explains:  

"The problem with welfare analysis [my comment: and economics in general] is not so much that ethical dimensions typically enter into it, but that economists pretend that is not so. They do so by justifying their normative dicta with appeal to the seemly scientific but actually value-laden concept of efficiency."

The astute reader may object that those quotes refer to the US, not Australia.

An old Australian business and economics journalist, whom I have criticised before, has made today the point (to the best of my knowledge, for the first time in Australian mainstream media) that ideological bias is behind the opinions of some local "academics and independent observers":

"The economists don't go on to acknowledge that their almost universal opposition to the levy is based not on value-free (or 'positive') economic reasoning, but on a political philosophy buried so deep within their model - and so deep in the way economists are trained to think - that many of them don't know they're being just as political as the pollies".
While partial, that was a brave first step. Good on you, Mr. Ross Gittins.

UPDATE:
The Magpie squawks!

NOTE:
[*] I am pretending to be a civilized middle-class bloke here, and thus I put this in a charitable way. What I really mean to say is that their theories are crap.

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