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Economists are Politically Biased and That’s a Good Thing

538 did some analysis concluding that economists are politically biased.  But Kevin Drum and Noah Smith don’t buy it and downplay the relevance of the research.  They say the research was constructed to find the political biases and that the political bias is probably less than 538 implies.  Hmmm, I don’t know about that.

Here’s the thing – economics isn’t like physics.  Economists don’t necessarily learn the same underlying principles of how the world works leading to unbiased experiments and hypotheses in the future.  In the field of economics we actually have competing views of the way the world works.  The two dominant views are the “fresh water” and “salt water” programs.  Depending on where you get your economics education you are likely to learn differing underlying principles of how the economy functions at an operational level.  A good deal of these understandings are political in nature with the fresh water schools tending to advocate laissez-faire policies and the salt water schools tending to advocate a more discretionary governmental role in the economy.  There’s been increasing overlap in these various programs over the last 30 years, but you’re likely to get exposure to different views of the world depending on where you learn your economics.

All of this results in a tendency towards strong political bias in economics.  As I’ve noted, much of economics is just politics masquerading as science.  The main reason why is because economists are largely dealing in an inherently political field.  They are analyzing government policy and making specific recommendations.  And those views will be shaped to a large degree by where you learned how the world of economics works.  Of course, it’s probably impossible for economists to be totally apolitical given the inherent politicization of the field they study so economists are likely to be biased. So what?

The problem is, I don’t think it’s a good thing to downplay how politicized economics has become because this tends to lead to the conclusion that all of the research is objective and based on sound underlying concepts. Instead, I think we should embrace the macro wars and acknowledge that there are ideas and ideologies that need to die a quick death.  And one of the best ways to expedite the death of certain econ programs and understandings is to expose these biases and correct them.  That way we don’t continue to crank out young economists from the more politically biased programs. Call it creative destruction, evoluation or whatever you want. Either way, it’s a good thing that certain economists are ideological because that is one of the key ways we’ll expose their misunderstandings as time goes on. And we’ll all ultimately become better off for it because weeding out bad ideas will hopefully produce better future policy results.