Is Economic Research Biased by Partisanship?

The Washington Monthly, a magazine of ideas from the liberal-left, has a profile of me and my paper with Nathan Goldschlag, Is regulation to blame for the decline in American entrepreneurship? The profile ups the “libertarian says regulation not responsible for bad thing!” angle. My earlier paper, finding that more guns leads to more suicides, was also given the “even a libertarian says” angle. In both cases, I was treated fairly and well and since I wrote the papers to be read, I am happy for the publicity. But I am uncomfortable with these takes.

After all, I am not surprised that my research is not biased by partisanship. Why should other people be? Should I not be insulted? Moreover, I don’t think that I am special in this regard. I think that most academic research in economics is not biased by partisanship. Thus, while it’s nice to receive plaudits on twitter for honesty and bravery, they are undeserved. This is normal. Normal for me and normal for other economists. The public perception to the contrary likely comes from two failures–a failure to distinguish partisan commentary from academic research and a failure to consider that ideology influences topic more than findings.

Economic commentary in the media often does come from political partisans but that is a completely different role than publishing peer-reviewed research. Papers published in mainstream economics journals have passed a high bar and are much less likely to be infused with partisan bias–this is true even when the research leads to a blog post or op-ed that may be of partisan interest.

An economist’s ideology probably does influence the topics they choose to research. I’ve written on bounty hunters, privateers, and the private provision of public goods, topics surely influenced by my interest in how markets solve problems usually thought solvable only by governments. Choice of topic, however, does not necessarily determine the outcome. In the aforementioned three cases, my research can be read as broadly supportive of private solutions. The topics of dynamism and regulation, firearms and suicides, and private cities in India were probably also influenced by ideology but in these cases the research can be read as somewhat less supportive of private solutions.1 Let the chips fall where they may. I’ve learnt something in both sets of cases. My academic ideology, “a demand to know the truth,” trumps any narrow political ideology.

There’s another problem with praising a “libertarian”, or any researcher with strong beliefs, for honesty when their research conclusions don’t fit narrow priors. It puts their research that does fit narrow priors under a cloud. But only people with strong beliefs are put to this test. No one gets suspicious when a moderate democrat produces lots of research that fits moderate democrat priors. Why not? Do you assume reality is moderate?

I also wonder whether the people lauding me for my honest research–for which I thank them–will draw the correct conclusion. Namely, they should now be more receptive to my work on bounty hunters, privateers, and the private provision of public goods. Fingers crossed.

Let me conclude on a lighter note. There are many reasons why regulation could be costly outside of its effects on dynamism. Thus, for my friends who think that I have gone all-squishy, n.b.:

Not that Tabarrok himself has become a booster for regulation. He doesn’t think much of government’s ability to spark innovation through setting standards; the first thing he did when he last bought a new shower head, he said, was remove its federally mandated flow restrictor.

Read the whole thing.

Addendum 1: I have also written many papers like Would the Borda Count have Avoided the Civil War? and Patent Theory versus Patent Law where the topic was driven out of some non-ideological interest or simply because I had an idea. Publish or perish!


I think the poit is "X says Y and is sure that he is not saying Y because of ideological bias"

'a magazine of ideas from the liberal-left'

Astounding - who knew that the excellent Kevin Lewis was being paid by the liberal-left.

More guns leads to more suicides? How can that be? Isn't the only way to stop bad gun suicides is to have good gun suicides?

'I am not surprised that my research is not biased by partisanship'

Well, partisanship is such an elusive term, but few people wonder why the Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center holds the views he does concerning the FDA.

'a failure to consider that ideology influences topic more than findings'

Why yes, that is a reasonable point, as can be seen at a place where 'Smart Policy for a Growing World' (which not so coincidentally just happens to look almost identical in template appearance to here) is the goal of all that 'research.'

'No one gets suspicious when a moderate democrat produces lots of research that fits moderate democrat priors. '

Except for so many loyal commenters here, who have raised that suspicion to a high art. Though it is true that these days, such commenters seem to feel that Prof. Cowen is a man who can no longer be trusted not to be filled with moderate democrat priors.

"Except for so many loyal commenters here,"

Once is ironic. Repeatedly making the same comment is obsessive and a tad needy.

Prior is indistinguishable from a jilted ex-girlfriend. Except they usually get over their breakups in under a decade.

Reasonable people see tenured professors like Rogoff lie in a paper to make the evidence fit his political bias and hear a deafening silence of criticism from the rest of the profession and conclude the obvious. Why did you not demand his resignation Alex? This is why people think you're all corrupt.

He didn't lie and his conclusion never changed, did it?

It was a math error in an Excel spreadsheet wasn't it? And he and Reinhart allowed people to download the Excel spreadsheet so they could double check their work. And it did disprove the assertion that a 90% debt to GDP ratio mattered, but it didn't disprove the hypothesis that higher levels of debt are correlated with lower levels of growth. (We don't know if their causal.)

I don't know where you get this misinformation but this is not true. They cherry picked data to back up their thesis and when this didn't work they massaged the numbers and then when this was discovered they lied about the conclusions they drew from it and the public policy they advocated in lieu of their results:

So I guess you and anonymous are part of the problem!

LOL, The article you linked to does not support your statement.

From the article:

"To sum up, there may well be a threshold at which high levels of public debt tend to be associated with very bad growth outcomes and financial crises, but it isn’t ninety per cent of G.D.P., or even a hundred per cent. Maybe it’s a hundred and twenty per cent, although that figure isn’t a firm one, either."

"And moreover, it turns out that the growth penalty doesn’t actually kick in until the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio hits a hundred and twenty per cent, which is considerably higher than what countries like Britain and the United States are facing. "

So, the end result is that R&R were wrong about the 90% debt to GDP ratio leading to downward pressure on growth, instead the evidence indicates the real figure is 120%.

Well the quotes sure don't support your post. Or Rogoff, lol!

My comment didn't need support. It was fundamentally a math error in Excel. Reinhart and Rogoff did publicly release their data and methods. They did acknowledge the error and admit that the original figure of 90% was incorrect. The author of the piece you cite does state that the data indicates a correlation starting at around 120%.

Nothing was incorrect about my comment.

On the other hand your comment was just classic motive assassination. You just assume that people you don't ideologically agree with must be lying and scheming.

One of the many reasons I admire Tabarrok and Cowen, besides hosting this blog, is that they don't use their professional prestige to sell snake oil. Sure, they write blog posts and commentary that is consistent with their libertarian disposition, but that's a far cry from the ideological and partisan opinions one reads in national newspapers that are masquerading as the non-ideological and non-partisan views of experts.

As for Tabarrok's views about regulation, I often chide Tabarrok for his posts criticizing the FDA and his preference for deregulation of drugs. My comments are meant to remind Tabarrok that the FDA has several roles besides the approval of drugs before they can be sold, including maintaining public confidence in our drugs. We have already seen what happens when the public loses confidence in the safety of vaccines, consider the consequences if the public loses confidence in drugs during a pandemic. Constantly attacking the FDA does not inspire public confidence in the FDA. Quite the contrary.

Tabarrok has also expressed support for "right to try" laws. My view is that desperate people are most in need of protection from charlatans. But if they are going to die anyway, why not let them try? My response: false hope is no cure and may well accelerate death. My brother died of leukemia several years ago. When conventional treatment no longer worked, he sought and obtained permission to participate in a drug trial. One of the warnings was that the drug increased the risk of infection, which for someone with a compromised immune system would likely be fatal. He chose to participate in the drug trial anyway. Alas, he got an infection in his lungs, which killed him. His participation was pursuant to an informed decision, and under the protocols of a regulated drug trial. I like to believe his death contributed important information about the drug, which could help prolong the lives of future sufferers of the disease. Right to try laws, on the other hand, simply make guinea pigs out of desperate people and likely diminish public confidence in the safety and efficacy of drugs.

"But if they are going to die anyway, why not let them try? My response: false hope is no cure and may well accelerate death"

It's worse than that. For economists who are not doctrinaire libertarians, there's also the opportunity cost of producing and marketing useless drugs: those hucksters and quacks could be doing something else that would be useful to society instead of useless. Even if it's just flipping burgers at McDonalds, at least they'd be doing something productive. It's the libertarian version of paying people to dig holes and then fill them in.

Seems your brother's unfortunate death from leukemia (which I also have in one side of our family) and his decision to experiment with drugs is not so different from AlexT's "right to try" proposal, insofar as I understand it. It's a difference of degree rather than kind.

As for public confidence in vaccines, no amount of science will quell doubters if there's any side effects from vaccines, unfortunately. Google "Dengvaxia Philippines dengue vaccine" (and note Dengvaxia is a 'first generation' vaccine that is good, but people don't like it since it's not 'second generation' and has some side effects). Are they right? Dengue kills mostly kids and old people, adults can fight it off, so it's hard to say.

Bonus trivia: they already have 'right to try' de facto: all experimental drugs are tried outside the USA, in the Third World, and then inside the USA, at least that's my layperson's understanding, it could be out of date today, but it was true roughly 30 years ago and I doubt things have changed much. Why use First World guinea pigs when Third Worlders are so much less expensive?

There are most certainly risks from vaccines, they are right there on the label. Paralysis, death, high fever, encephalitis, allergic reaction, coma, etc. These risks are statistically low, but very very real. Every year, some children get their shots and are dead or paralyzed or catatonic or at least crying uncontrollably. This is an undisputed fact.

So, the concept of "safe" is in fact a public health determination made by a government agency on our behalf. It is a cost-benefit choice. In most cases of vaccines, the government decides that the vaccine risks that kill, main, or at least severely sicken some children are worth the public health benefits of protecting other children (and perhaps some seniors). Because, in the vast majority of vaccines, the beneficiaries are not the recipients, but a subset of the population that is vulnerable, i.e. either already compromised or unable to take the vaccine for some reason (such as very young or already had a major adverse reaction to a previous vaccine). This is true for the flu, for polo, and for measles. Most people who get it turn out fine, some do not.

The flu being a prime example where we are all told get vaccinated for our own good, but in fact it's in order to protect a (controversial) number of very young children and already-compromised seniors from dying from what is generally only an inconvenience for the majority.

The HPV vaccine is an extreme example, where the goal is to reduce the overall incidence of HPV which is an STD linked to some forms of cancer, so, the vaccine is intended to benefit those adults who have unprotected sex, and as a result contract HPV, then fail to detect their infection, and then some of those develop cancer, and then in a final stroke of bad luck, poor choices, and inadequate self-care, fail to have routine tests to detect the cancer. So to bail out these adults, we vaccinate all our children.

Ok, that's a lovely liberal minded thing to do: force everyone to inject themselves and their children with medicines in order to reduce the deaths of the most vulnerable parts of the population, even if some of those people taking the shot are ironically permanently sicked or killed by the shot itself.

None of the things I just wrote are in dispute. You'll note I did not mention autism.

The fact that it is done by government agencies with reputations for over-zealousness, regulatory capture and conflicts of interest does not help their cause. That they proceed with misinformation, arrogance, and deception does not help either. This system should give Libertarians in particular reason for pause, but it does not seem to. the vaccine industry has done a remarkable job of getting itself immune from skepticism and criticism directed at every other economic, medical, and political activity. The corruption and conflicts of interest, the government power and arrogance, the replicability crisis... apparently none of this affects vaccines. Miracle drugs indeed.

There's a lot of other problems with vaccines, long term studies of the effects of multiple shots and in combination with environmental toxins and stressors has not really been tested. There are concerns about recently vaccinated people shedding germs. About a vanishing point problem with the "herd immunity" targets. About effectiveness fall-offs and germs developing resistance. But let's stick the facts: vaccines have major side effects.

What is striking though is that here on a blog that spends its time with anxiety attacks about seat belt laws or regulation of hot dog vendors needs to have explained the public health rationale behind mandatory vaccination of children.

It's a government-mandated forced mass medical intervention program directed at children, that sickens some to benefit others. One that creates captive markets for monopoly producers, enforced by the government, and with blanket preemptive liability protect for the producers.

Seriously Libertarians, wtf. Those of you who went apoplectic about Obamacare need to do your homework.

Vaccines save the lives of many thousands of children each year. I think that's the explanation for their support

As do seat belt laws and regulation of food and drugs. And those two, unlike vaccines, don't come with the premise that the regulation will kill and maim a subset of the intended beneficiaries.

Again, I have yet to hear the Libertarian case for a government mandated forced medical intervention program that provides a nation-wide pipeline of captive consumers to monopoly producers with preemptive blanket liability protection.

"Oh, it saves chidlren's lives? Fine, no worries. I'll take your word for it. Regulate away." That's not something we hear from Libertarians very often.

"And if my child develops encephalitis from the shot, I will know at least he did so for the greater good."

Nevermind, I just figured out the answer.

Perhaps Libertarians don't mind being told by the government what to do with their children's bodies. They just hate being told what to do with their money.

Ray Lopez.

My reply was not necessarily as much directed at you, as it was triggered by your post.

I have been here before in Libertarian haunts; the massive blind spot about the vaccine system.

@McMike - good points bro, though I think throat cancer HPV is for youngster rather than oldsters (like me), since the vaccine doesn't work with old farts like me. Also the PH dengue vaccine, for technical reasons, was a "rush to market" first generation (for profit) vaccine that is more unsafe than a newer, still experimental, but much safer "second generation" (inactivated virus) vaccine, which raises interesting questions about how government and drug companies work hand-in-hand for profit. Google the NIH on this vaccine and how a government boffin says what I say above.

Bonus trivia: avoid Pattaya, Thailand. No, you cannot "just go and watch" and think you'll escape. No, trust me on this. Peer pressure and simple predator-prey dynamics will ensure that you'll get HPV (or worse). Even if you're in a group for protection. This being a family site I cannot get more specific. Just don't go there. The libertarian in me says it should be banned, I know that's ludicrous but true.

Well I am sorry to hear what your post implies.

Isn't banning a location effectively how the public health cycle works? Certain places become free-for-all zones, until eventually they reach a point that there is civic pressure to "clean them up."

In terms of vaccines specifically for HPV, isn't a more libertarian solution instead of preemptively vaccinating everyone (forcing the "innocent" to solve the problem) isn't it preferable to mandate use of condoms, or perhaps mandate STD testing for everyone (to focus the solution on the participants?).

As for vaccines in developing countries, that is a wrinkle. And to my mind a separate calculation from developed nations, these are very different environments. Clearly, vaccines there are a more overt treat-the-symptom approach to dealing with problems of poverty, infrastructure, and education. I do not have the data, but the premise is that the infection and mortality/morbidity rates are much higher, which tilts the public health cost-benefit calculus, and strengthens the indirect societal benefit of a mandatory vaccine regime. Of course it would be preferable to build hospitals and improve sanitation and nutrition, but apparently that's not feasible. But what does that have to do with vaccines in the US? Very little, unless authorities want to argue that US citizens should vaccinate themselves to help eradicate a disease in Africa. Ok, fair enough, then make THAT case. But of course that's not the case they make here, instead they rely on fear-mongering propaganda, myths, and selectively amnesic scenarios. (i.e polio cannot be understood without understanding the historical public sanitation context of a fecal transmitted disease).

Already this thread is too long and I'm surprised it's still here, given that it's off-topic, but one answer to HPV is that it simply comes from kissing and oral contact, so condoms don't help, nearly 90% of the population gets it, that the sex workers in Pattayya kiss everybody in the mouth (whether you like it or not, they simply grab you and do it), and that the Gardasil vaccine stops throat cancer from such kissing, and other oral activity, in youngsters. If I have kids I'll have them take it. As for me, some oral anomalies developed after my Pattaya trip, but the dentist removed it and said it was benign. For women, it's much worse, and the HPV virus causes cervical disease. Over and out, good luck, I won't revisit this thread.

If I didn't know better, and I don't, I'd say you were girding your loins for Taleb. Might be a great conversation (if there is such a thing.)

Or, obviously, it might be a train wreck. Good luck!

Actually, I do know better. Sorry Alex. Comment withdrawn. Guh.

Apart from the hilarity of anyone thinking you are libertarian, there is this:

>"Papers published in mainstream economics journals have passed a high bar and are much less likely to be infused with partisan bias"

This is flat-out false. Journals publish the papers that reach the "proper" conclusions that they want to publish. And you know this.


And increasingly partisans and self interested economic entities have captured the research and publishing system.

He got half way there when he acknowledged partisanship might influence what he chooses to study. Well indeed, it controls which questions get asked, and also controls which answers get published.... by economically rational publishers and universities

"Well indeed, it controls which questions get asked, and also controls which answers get published.... by economically rational publishers and universities"

Exactly. Of course since most social sciences are heavily dominated by Left leaning researchers, you get a lot of ultimately lop sided research results. Not completely one sided, because there are always a few that lean to the right (though they may keep this fact hidden from their colleagues) and of course, there's always honest researchers who just report the results even if it's not what they expected to get.

Can you substantiate that please.

There may be a lot of left leaning economists getting published that I am not aware of. What gets promoted is quite different than what you claim.

Sorry, I wasn't including economics in the social sciences. In my mind it straddles the boundary with the harder science of STEM degrees. So, my comment was misleading.

lol. economics, the homeless science.

Agreed that your research should not be biased by your partisanship... but maybe your partisanship should be biased by your research?

Kudos to Alex T. But macro economics has become politics and drag.

And why is the minimum wage always a topic but rarely property zoning?

And does anyone ever mention the routine criminalization of push-cart vending?

Because what they do to hot dogs is criminal

Hmm, I don't read any economics journals, but in most disciplines, peer-reviewed journals are heavily tainted by political bias. If economics is different, that may be because it is not quite so heavily left-liberal as most disciplines.

Economists have more opportunities than most professors to live and work in the larger world beyond academia. It's the same reason one still finds conservative law professors.

Twenty years ago I would not have assumed that most research was politically biased. I was naively confident in the integrity of academia.

Today I would presume that any research outside of pure science or engineering is more likely to be biased than not, and even some of those results are presented in ways that raise questions about the good faith of the people involved.

Properties of materials results are still probably OK to accept at face value, anything with a political spin or implication not so much.

One exception is when results are "evidence against interest" - as an example of this, I recall the analysis on the effects of admissions mismatch in law schools done a few years ago where the researcher withheld the evidence for several years because he politically didn't like the results.

One of the side effects of the replication crisis is to suggest just how much even peer reviewed "results" are subject to question and data conditioning. Trust once lost is hard to regain.

Perhaps the two biggest changes last two-three decades are the conversion of academic system into an overt form of the revolving door (i.e. corporate consulting fees, innovation joint ventures, corporate boards) and the not-so-soft corruption of corporate funding of university research.

It's hard to argue that all that money flooding into academia hasn't had an effect on the incentives and culture.

It's just as hard to argue that the progressivism of academia has had an effect on the incentives and culture of corporate productivity. It is, as you pointed out, a two way street.

Did you skip a "not"?

I would indeed argue that it is a highly imbalanced two-way street, if not one way.

And while perhaps there once was some validity of the stereotype of old Marxists profs with unkempt beards driving out the bow-tied young republicans over in the liberal arts buildings, it is certainly now true that soft censorship and rewards systems vastly research in areas that corporate donors are interested in.

"I would indeed argue that it is a highly imbalanced two-way street, if not one way."

Are you actually trying to argue that academia has no influence on the corporate world? That's implausible since you readily admit that corporations higher academics. Since they higher them, it's virtually certain that the academics they hire, have an effect on corporate culture.

" and rewards systems vastly research in areas that corporate donors are interested in."

If by that you mean that sometimes academics have to work for a living, then yes I agree. If you mean that corporate money is somehow an evil influence, then we disagree. Is government money also evil money, because it certainly comes with strings attached? Are private donations evil money, because you know more strings?

And those students, they are the most demanding. They insist that academics demean themselves by showing up in a classroom to teach. Though to be fair most Universities are pushing all of the teaching onto lowly paid undergraduates while ensuring the tenured professors are very well compensated.

Ghostbusters - Ray Stantz: "Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities; we didn't have to produce anything. You've never been out of college. I've worked in the private sector. [shrugs shoulders indignantly] They expect results."

I am arguing that the people spending the money have the most influence.

Evil is your word, and a bad bit of sophistry, since you are trying inject a value judgement debate into an argument about a factual assessment of relative power and influence

"I am arguing that the people spending the money have the most influence."

So, that would be the government then.

"Evil is your word, and a bad bit of sophistry,"

Fine, use whatever word you want to use. My basic point is that it's not a logical argument to classify corporate influence as corrupting (your word) and ignore the corrupting influences of academia, government and every other actor.

To highlight the dominant effect of one player does not mean I am ignoring other influences, that's more sophistry from you.

In some fields, corporate money has overtaken government money in terms of direct or incremental funding. And the corporate perks - the speaking fees, possibility of sharing a patent, board seats, etc - blow government money away. And in fact there's often a lot less strings attached with corporate money, as in the only string is if you want more money in the future, you better get the right answer.

"To highlight the dominant effect of one player does not mean I am ignoring other influences, that's more sophistry from you."

The dominant effect is government spending. Corporate funding of university research is tiny. You are ignoring the elephant while you chase the mouse around it's legs.

According to this NSF data, TABLE 3. U.S. R&D expenditures, by performing sector, source of funds, and type of work: 2015 -

Higher Education performed in 2015 $64.6 billion of R&D work, of which $33.5 billion (52%) was funded by the Federal government, $17.3 billion (27%) by Higher Education, and $3.8 billion (6%) by Business.

If funding buys influence in academia, it looks like business doesn't have much.

Don't interrupt his overwhelming corrupt corporate influence narrative with facts.

Are libertarians more intellectually honest than liberals and conservatives? I would guess so. Cowen and Tabarrok are certainly shining examples.

There are too many bad liberal and conservative academic examples to name.

You mean do they honestly believe in unicorns?

Yeah, well, sometimes I think that most bias observed is subconscious or pre-conscious. The researchers never study the embarrassing area, or if they do they parse the questions to avoid refutation. I think, but can't prove, only a minority of results are censored "after the fact".

Anyway, didn't we just have research suggesting that smarter people are more honest? That's positively correlated with libertarianism, so maybe it's just the honesty==smartness complex rather than libertarianism with our hosts.

Here's a link to an article on such research:

However, that research looks pretty shady. Either smart people are lying about getting a 6 (which is the highest payoff) or the sample size was far too small to be significant.

"Either smart people are lying about getting a 6 "

And by lying, I mean claiming their result wasn't a 6 when it was. The people were paid more money for getting a higher number on the die. So, lower intelligence people tended to lie and claim a 6, well above the statistical odds, but the higher intelligence people claimed a 6 well below the statistical odds. So, the results are suspect.

Yes. Seen this one. N= 427 for that trial, not great but ok. As a hedge statistician....from the graph in the main paper....yeah, I'd say there is a solid effect with moderate confidence.

The commentary is good too; it seems to offer some support for "smarter lies" rather than "no lies", which is what we might expect from a Evo Psych perspective. But living with people who tell smart lies is still better than dealing with people who tell dumb lies!

Surely the most dishonest post in MR history, not as much as it relates to MR bloggers but to the economics profession at large, especially macro.

Kudos from AlexT, though his 2002 paper on patent law is not necessarily clearly wrong, just incomplete, since Section 103 (35 USC 103) *does* allow for an economic analysis of sunk costs to be considered as a factor in awarding a patent (in overcoming 'obviousness' under Section 103) which a very quick review via keywords shows AlexT's paper missed this point (Abstract below). In AlexT's defense such sunk cost determinations are rarely made (though I've seen them several times, often being dispositive for patentability). But a small point that most academics outside the field of law would miss, not a big deal.

AlexT's 2002 Abstract on patents:
According to the economic theory of patents, patents are needed so that pioneer firm have time to recoup their sunk costs of research and development. The key element in the economic theory is that pioneer firms have large, hard to recoup, sunk costs. Yet patents are not awarded on the basis of a firm’s sunk costs. Patent law, in fact, ignores costs. The disconnect between patent law and patent theory suggests either that modifying patent law so that it better fits with patent theory would reduce the costs and inefficiencies associated with current patent practice or that the standard economic theory of patents is wrong "

J' accuse AlexT of being anti-patent.

Although notice the carefully chosen word "most". Ie is 50.1 percent of economics research unbiased? Maybe.

Peer review is a good check. But, don't assume peer review means much if the journal publishing the article is itself known for its bias.

I just published a peer reviewed article in Breitbart News.

On the other hand, if you are publishing in a broad based journal of your profession, say American Economic Review, and you are peer reviewed, that says something to me, at least.

I think what this shows us is the norm in journalism is certainly to mix partisanship with news - the majority of what passes as "news" in the US today is in fact partisan hack jobs. Therefore when someone in journalism looks to another industry and sees someone that does not behave the way as their industry would, they are SHOCKED!

on AlexT's paper: "Armed with RegData, Tabarrok and Goldschlag set out to show that regulations were at least partly to blame. But they couldn’t. There was simply no correlation, they found, between the degree of federal regulation and the decline of business dynamism. The decline was seen across many different industries, including those that are heavily regulated and those that are not. They tried two other independent tests that didn’t rely on RegData, and came to the same conclusion: an increase in federal regulation just could not explain what was going on." - just to state the obvious this does not 'prove' there's no drawback to government regulation. It could well be that heavily regulated industries, by GDP-weight, are more important than lightly regulated industries, and that's why "no effect" to government regulation. I bet health care or drilling for offshore oil is more regulated in the USA than, say, buying flying drones or setting up a crafts store. Put another way: who is growing faster in the world today, the un-regulated Philippines (in practice, not on paper), or Kenya, or the heavily regulated USA? The Kenya > PH > USA. Proof that regulation matters (or it's one way of slicing the data, actually if you believe in Great Stagnation, probably Kenya and PH are simply catching up to the USA, nothing more).

I want to see the research that shows paying more workers higher wages cuts costs.

After all, employers announcing cost cutting measures to employees need to lead with this research to gain the support of their workers in cost cutting, to assure workers that cost cutting means higher wages and benefits, and that the parklots will get bigger to handle will the new employees.

After all, deregulation is done to cut costs to create more higher paying jobs!


And Donald Trump needs to learn this to stop him from imposing lots of new regulations blocking imports to the US which will increase costs, and increasing costs will kill jobs in the US. Ie, higher steel costs will kill jobs producing steel, because higher costs mean fewer workers and lower wages.

I’m with Ray and a lot of this goes back to Gabriel Kolko. Most of the industries that are worth regulating have already been captured.

Not federally regulating the restaurant industry isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not a COMMANDING HEIGHT industry and therefore it’s largely very competitive, filled with small firms making a difference, and has a low barrier to entry.

The only real regulatory capture that benefits larger restaurant chains at the expense of small players is zoning and local restrictions-especially srx liquor licenses which basically act as blockade for middle and lower class people to become restaurant owners....

Not sure that showing that the volume of federal regulations by industry does not correlate with dynamism would demonstrate that the substance of federal regulations is uncorrelated with dynamism. Kind of like a chemist counting the number of beakers on different shelves to declare that none of them contain acid.

And the WM author’s contention that there are no trade offs associated with federal regulations would imply that regulatory compliance costs nothing. Am I mistaken in assuming that regulatory compliance does in fact consume resources? If not, why have we not abolished all regulatory cost benefit analysis requirements? After all the WM tells us that AT has proven that regulations have no trade offs and are pure benefits with no costs.

Tried studying the RegData methodology but couldn't escape the conclusion that is driven by word counts. It weights each "shall not" equally as if regulatory prohibitions are fungible, each having an equivalent impact. Don't see this as much of an improvement over page counts. Don't understand why academics are so hellbent on aggregating things that are not fungible as if they were.

Zingales and others at the Stigler Center have also traced a lack of economic dynamism to monopoly and monopsony. For example: Strong Employers and Weak Employees: Study Sheds New Light on How Labor Market Concentration Hurts Workers

Another 'one-factor' model consistent with the data and even cleaner than 'monopoly in some key industries' is TC's "Great Stagnation" thesis: lack of dynamism exists in all industries due to science getting harder to do. Another reason we need better patent laws, as I've said.

A great post. And many readers are understanding "I think that most academic research in economics is not biased by partisanship. Thus, while it’s nice to receive plaudits on twitter for honesty and bravery, they are undeserved. This is normal. Normal for me and normal for other economists" way too literally. This is a normative statement, disguised (a very standard rhetorical trick) as a descriptive one.

How does one interpret ""I think that most academic research in economics is not biased by partisanship." as normative rather than descriptive?

Please. Isn't this obvious? Here's how it works:
Suppose there is a political dispute over X. X itself is difficult to directly and conclusively measure. However, there are plenty of other questions which can be asked, and the answers to those questions offer political support for or against X. So the choice of questions actually asked and published will influence the political discussion.

Does removing the flow restrictor really make that much of a difference?

Virtue signalling is everywhere these days.

Biased research gets more press, both by those who think the conclusions will support a policy they want, and also by those who point out the biased-ness to claim that "the other guys are always full of _______".

Alex's paper is interesting but it sort of leaves me wondering if what really matters is business dynamism. What if certain industries are dominated by a few large firms because they are quite innovative, as is the case with many industries today? Incidentally, this is why when I hear declining dynamism blamed on monopoly power, as the author of the article conjectures. I am puzzled why I should be particularly worried.

This why conservatives complain about insufficient conservatives in academia. Not enough bias confirmation. So they have a large think tank apparatus so they can generate 'research' to provide it, with only the sponsors to okay it.

Are you an ivory tower academic totally divorced from reality?

I think the problem here is defining bias. It can both be true that researchers are all acting to simply uncover truths about the world around them and that researchers are much more likely to reach conclusions consistent with their ideology.

Ideological beliefs affect your priors and the same things that cause you to choose an ideology will often motivate your research choices. I mean given an effect as a researcher you will look for an explanation of that effect in the locations you think are most plausible. You don't preregister an amount of time that you will search for all possible explanations and allocate it uniformly between those with differing political valances. As such if you tend to believe that market ineffeciences are most often the result of regulatory distortions you will be much more likely to find that such distortions explain the phenomena than if you think these ineffeciences are most often the result of individual irrationality and greed by corporate leaders (e.g. incentive mismatch) or inherent features of the market.

Given that there is a base probability that any factor will appear to completely explain a phenomena even when it doesn't where you think the right explanation is most likely to appear makes a difference even when you are behaving perfectly rationally.

Tell your IT guy to fix your 'frames'. The body of the text is not wrapping in browser

A better question would be "Are Economists Biased by Partisanship".
Do you think the economists who signed the Open Letter to
Ben Bernanke in 2010,,
about the risks of quantitative easing weren't influenced by
their biases? Also as Russ Roberts points out you can find
data to support almost any policy you "feel" is right.
Surely that is true for issues like tax cuts, tariffs, etc.
Even if economic research isn't biased how economists use it
can be biased.

Specifically, Martin Neil Baily, Jason Furman, Alan Krueger, Laura D’Andrea Tyson and Janet Yellen – all former Democratic chairs of the White House Council of Economic Advisers – dispute a group of Hoover Institution economists who had earlier shown that long-term deficits are determined by escalating entitlement program costs.

The problem is not with published research, assuming it's not "published" by ideological institutions like AEI, Heritage, and Mercatus. It is with public policy pronouncements, which are often ludicrous.

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