12 July 2010

Superficial social science

Tim Harford (popular economist) writes in the FT on the potentially unhealthy influence popular social science can have on politicians and other decision-makers. He points out that popular social science is (well) popular because it comprises interesting data but it may not be balanced. Boring balancing data may never surface. They'll be found in systemic reviews, which should be the starting point for policy makers.

This reminded me of John Naughton's recent comments on the 'austerity mantra'. We owe lots of money so, yes, austerity makes immediate sense and, as Naughton points out, might restore confidence of investors who might otherwise withdraw support for the UK and US economies. But we don't know. And then what? How can we be sure the result won't be stagnation? Wouldn't a more complex balance of cut and stimulus be more appropriate?

I recently discussed the impact of Canadian austerity with a Canadian friend who commented, "yes, we paid off our debt, but what have you seen coming out of Canada recently?".

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