Scientists as advocates … and humility around value judgments

I keep seeing tweets like this – like multiple times a day for several weeks now:

So I thought I should provide my thoughts.

I agree.  Scientists are people and should be able to say what they believe in … as long as they:

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New Zealand politicians want everyone elses wages cut

Our Prime minister, John Key, has decided to say the following:

Prime Minister John Key has indicated he thought the New Zealand dollar’s fair falue was around 65 USc and that it would be logical for the Reserve Bank to intervene to push the New Zealand dollar lower, given it was currently well above where it was fundamentally fairly valued.

Key restated his view that currency intervention was not effective in the long term to try to shift the underlying value of the currency, but agreed it was “fairly logical” for the Reserve Bank to intervene when the currency was so far away from its fundamental value.

Lots of people may think this, most of them without any thought or interest about asking “why” the dollar is where it is, but lots of people do think it.  But a sudden drop in the New Zealand dollar is akin to a cut in wages – all those imports suddenly become more expensive.

Given their standing and thereby ability to seemingly signal intervention in markets, the prime minister and finance minister really need to keep quiet about policy where there is an independent body involved – as it both creates volatility and indicates that such things are a more political issue.  I was pissed off when Cullen did this, pissed off when Key has done it in the past, and I’m pissed off hearing it now.  I don’t care if someone asked the frikken question, part of central bank independence is having fiscal authorities show a bit of discipline with their comments.

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Blue Green party: background reading

Stoked to see Gareth Morgan’s post yesterday calling for a Blue-Green party. He sums it up well in this passage

A Bluegreen party would emphatically express New Zealanders’ preference for clever and clean as the way we want our dollars earned, while leaving National and Labour to fight over how social justice is best promoted – via National’s preference for capacity building through education and training, delivering more flexible employment and wage-setting practices; or via Labour’s penchant for widening and lifting of social assistance, greater progressivity of income tax, widening the tax base on income from capital, and greater protection of labour in the workplace.

Matt and I have been talking about this since 2008 when all the TVHE authors took a political compass test as a gimmick to provide content for the blog. Due to a combination of laziness, a lack of money and no desire to get involved in politics, we haven’t done anything about our great idea. That was 6 years ago and a lot has changed since, but we still think there is room for a centrist Green party and so are stoked to see Gareth using his profile to have a serious conversation about it.

Matt did a good post on this about a year ago (There is some pretty robust discussion in the comments section).  When discussing the failed Progressive Greens party at the 1996 (which David Farrar mentions in his post on Gareth’s post) he noted: Read more

Bleg: Child poverty, problem definition and solutions

Hey all.  I see that National has made child poverty a focus of their new term – cool.  Obviously “Child Poverty in New Zealand” has been a persuasive book, and I really need to read and review it here.

This is an issue that is definitely important to consider, which means we need to think carefully about what issues we are looking at addressing, what policy tools there are, and what trade-offs exist when you use them.

I first noticed the National party focus from this tweet:

Followed by this tweet:

Ignore the fact that this is a Labour person trying to claim that they’ve “won” some argument here – in truth this really illustrates to me how poor the “left vs right” divide is at saying anything.  Child poverty and lack of opportunities is an important issue, moving towards restrictions on foreigners buying land is not comparable and not part of the “same agenda”.  We can be internationalists and care about poverty.

Still, I’m getting off tack – I would like you guys to have a crack at stating some of the “problems” and policy “solutions” involved in the space of child poverty.  If you know anyone who has some views on this, would you be able to send this to them and get them to write in the comments.  I’d like to get a bunch of feedback in, and see if we can do a series of posts on the issue.

And in case someone turns up here saying economists don’t care or think about the issue, thereby illustrating they don’t know anything about either me or the economics discipline, read what I said about food in schools.  And take into account that the vast majority of working economists I’ve talked to about that post have said they agree with me.  And further note that economics is the study of trade-offs, we only agree with this policy as the trade-offs involved fit our personal value judgments, so we are more than accepting of disagreement – in that way, please try to come at us with a neutral stance 😉

Technocracy and the tyranny of objectivity?

First let me cover off the two reasons you have probably clicked on this post:

  1. The question mark is on purpose – even though it sounds like a statement.  In the end, these are issues of balance rather than black and white rights and wrongs.  Then again, maybe I’m biased as I see myself as a technocrat individual 😉
  2. Technocracy is an actual term for a nation governed by technocrats – I didn’t know this when I wrote it (although I did guess 😉 )

I was reading twitter, as you do, when the following tweet popped up:

Objectivity in policy making, more data, rant about politics – how could I disagree!  I am an economist, I’m cynical about political parties, I attempt data analysis, and strongly support attempts at objectivity – surely our fine tweeter was talking to my soul.

And yes, data and descriptive analysis to create “knowledge” is undeniably important to the concept of informing policy making.

But I think alarm bells appear whenever politics is termed broken and objectivity is touted as a “solution”.  Especially when the critique involved appears to be pointing at someone who tends to say that we can’t just look at ways of breaking down institutions without understanding their purpose – and the ways they actually aid in coordination and welfare.  Note:  I don’t know if he said something silly today or some such, I just looked on google search and wikipedia – just as a pointer 😉

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QOTD: Andrew Dickson and Bill Kaye-Blake

While the blog was out of action I noticed a lot of people linking the following article by Andrew Dickson and Bill Kaye-Blake (from Groping to Bethlehem).

All the links focused on how the article made the case for a tax on sugar.  That is fine and all, it was an externality case that we can discuss, appeal to evidence and value judgments on, and then decide whether we agree or not.  In fact, I get the impression that is the exact point that the authors are raising after setting up the pro-argument.

However, I didn’t get the impression that many people made it to the second half of the article (given the way it was used) – and the second half was absolutely glorious.

The second half starts with this: Read more