Quote of the day: Hausman on tarot card reading … or ethics and economics

Today’s quote of the day stems from me starting to reread “Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy“.  Last time I went through this book it annoyed me, as it didn’t seem to be attacking a “fair” version of an economist – rather a caricature.

However, I have noticed this time, in the first chapter, Hausman admits that is what they are doing – and it is to make the basic ethic principles they want to discuss “clear” to other economists.  In other words this isn’t a book about criticising economists per se – more a basic description of some important moral principles to keep in mind when translating from theory to practice in economics and policy making, and decision making more generally.  I can deal with this, and should be able to read the book far less defensively.

On that note he says:

 The idea that studying ethics could help people to do economics or policy analysis may seem far-fetched.  Why not consult tarot cards instead?

Well, if he insists

More seriously, I find myself concerned that this piece is going to underplay the social conventions that do drive views on morality, or will treat morality as an aprori truth we can find from introversion (note, there may be non-relativistic moral facts, but they may still exist with reference to “society” rather than with reference to an individuals understanding/beliefs about society – this gets us into the hard situation of trying to determine social preferences, which is a minefield).  But it may not, and as I know very little about these things it will be useful to go back through it a bit more objectively than I did last time 🙂