Ideological bias and argument from authority among economists

That is the topic of a new paper by Mohsen Javdani and Ha-Joon Chang, here is part of the abstract:

Using an online randomized controlled experiment involving economists in 19 countries, we examine the effect of ideological bias on views among economists. Participants were asked to evaluate statements from prominent economists on different topics, while source attribution for each statement was randomized without participants’ knowledge. For each statement, participants either received a mainstream source, an ideologically different less-/non-mainstream source, or no source. We find that changing source attributions from mainstream to less-/non-mainstream, or removing them, significantly reduces economists’ reported agreement with statements. This contradicts the image economists have of themselves…

And from the paper:

Consistent with our overall findings, we find that for all but three statements, changing source attributions to a less/non-mainstream source significantly reduces the agreement level. The estimated reductions range from around one-tenth of a standard deviation to around half of a standard deviation.

The largest agreement reduction is for this sentence:

“Economic discourse of any sort — verbal, mathematical, econometric — is rhetoric; that is, an effort to persuade.”

You also can test which kinds of authority reassignation alter the level of agreement.  And thus:

We find that the estimated ideological bias among female economists is around 40 percent less than their male counterparts.

The countries where economists exhibit the highest ideological bias are Ireland, Japan, Australia, and Scandinavia, where for Austria, Brazil, and Italy the ideological bias is smallest.  South Africa, France, and Italy are most conformist to mainstream opinion.

It is a wordy and poorly written paper, and they don’t consider the possibility that deference to authority perhaps is the rational Bayesian move, not the contrary.  Still, it has numerous results of interest.  Here is the authors’ blog post on the paper.


It's awesome that they didn't cite Thomas Kuhn

"deference to authority perhaps is the rational Bayesian move" - Maybe that's their actual point, just that economists pretend that something else is going on?

The 'rational Bayesian move' comment almost made me snort my coffee given that this 100% non-empirical sentence was the one that showed the greatest deference to authority:

Economic discourse of any sort — verbal, mathematical, econometric — is rhetoric; that is, an effort to persuade.

That's a subjective claim that's is not subject to Bayesian analysis at all. But it IS a zero-cost, risk-free opportunity to conform to what they believe is elite opinion, and that's what they do. (It's also an obviously false claim -- 'of any sort'? How about economics jokes?)

I agree. That was one of the worst points Tyler has made in a very long while. Maybe that is why he still links to Krugman?

Thanks for stating clearly what I was thinking.

I long considered whether that claim was a normative or positive statement.

Deference to authority does not imply believing obviously false, conclusory, and unsupported statements. And given that most authorities are corrupted by arrogance and political agendas, I'm likely LESS inclined to believe an authority.

Hasn't Krugman been caught contradicting his own textbooks when he finds it convenient?

Kind of a telling quote about Tyler, no?

Ideology is not the issue, shilling for funders’ preferred outcomes is. It’s comical how an entire discipline concerned with incentives claims they don’t have any impact on the objectivity of practitioners’ research and policy advocacy.

Uh, I mean ideology IS an issue. Tyler is not running the Mercatus Center by taking orders from his funders (-1 recently), rather he runs the Mercatus Center because he believes the same kind of things the funders do. If he didn't he would never be there in the first place.

It's interesting how economists tend to get into lifelong political grooves. Fidelity to starting beliefs seems much more common than midlife conversions. Some Bayesians.

Reason: still the slave of the passions. News at 11.

Well, Samuelson did dilute his support for the Soviet economic model somewhat over a 40-year arc.

Remember when Tabarrok published a paper with a conclusion that regulation is not a main determinant of innovation on an industry level, even though that conflicted with his “political groove?”

Pepperidge Farm remembers.

Alex also published a book arguing that regulation wasn't really to blame for the rapid inflation in healthcare and education costs. So +2 for Alex.

That's true, and that was admirable.

Still, Robert Reich vs Art Laffer.

You are not a person who should be criticizing others for motivated reasoning, Bucko.

It's funny. I totally discount this kind of random one line insult, because I take it as a signal. This is the best the author has got.

Nothing with grounding or fact, no arc of logic, no conclusion stated with attached confidence ratio.

That attitude is just more motivated reasoning. An accusation of hypocrisy is not an insult, and you discount my comment only because it conflicts with your self-conception.

To put it simply, the first to make a personal insult has signalled that he's out, he's got nothing.

What if you really are a hypocrite?

As another poster said, we don't often see ourselves as others do.

Smart people generally have ideological views based on what they believe to be true, often from scientific inquiry. But doing so with integrity requires an open mind, intellectual honesty, and resistance to confirmation bias.

Consequently, just because some people are influenced by incentives doesn't imply all people are.

Here's a sentence I found at their blog.

"As argued by prominent social scientists (e.g. Althusser 1976, Foucault 1969, Popper 1955, Thompson 1997), the main source of ideological bias is knowledge-based, influenced by the institutions that produce discourses."

Ha ha, Popper in with the Po-Mo crowd! Ridiculous.

And Althusser? A murderous (wife killing) deceitful hack who wrote an influential book on Marx (Pour Marx), practically compulsory reading in Arts Faculties throughout the nineties, without having read a word of Marx, in French or otherwise. He did however bequeath us the term "ideological state apparatus" to refer to every institution he hated: family, schools, the bourgeois state, church...

NB: Not sure who the Thompson 1997 is. E. P. Thompson*, the socialist social historian?

* The greatest Marxist historian of the English speaking world, opines his obit writer at the Socialist Review...

Althusser was weird indeed. After he strangled his wife , he was officially declared nuts, and spent his last days drifting around Paris, screaming "I am the great Althusser" at random passers-by. The distance between a mental asylum and a humanities department is short indeed.

As for EP Thompson, he wrote an entire book - "The poverty of theory" - against Althusser, so if the authors cite Althusser and Thompson as authorities who made the same point, they probably overlooked something.

"The distance between a mental asylum and a humanities department is short indeed."

Lol! Stop that! I almost choked on my apple!

Deference to authority is a cuck move.

It's a Tyler Move. Submission is King at MR.

Good thing Ubermenchen like you are here to set him straight.

Bad Nietzsche! Stop staring at the abyss!


Saying anything about cucks in an intellectual discussion is prima facie evidence that you are not even smart enough to be a cuck.

"We find that the estimated ideological bias among female economists is around 40 percent less than their male counterparts."

This is why women are unemployable in these fields. They don't play ball.

This did not strike me as praise either. I know we’ve gone all post modern, but consider even for a second that SOMEONE has the correct ideology. Giving up your own perspective to agree with the source might be the wrong move.

"highest ideological bias are Ireland, Japan, Australia, and Scandinavia"
Those are countries with pretty good economies.

"Austria, Brazil, and Italy the ideological bias is smallest"
These are the next tier down.

"South Africa, France, and Italy are most conformist to mainstream opinion."
So are these. Odd that Italy is listed both as least ideological and conforms to the mainstream.

From the blog post:
"we find that economists with a PhD degree from Asia, Canada, Scandinavia, and the U.S. exhibit the strongest ideological bias."

Conclusion: More ideological bias, not less, leads to prosperity.

Maybe it's the reverse, prosperity engenders more ideological bickering?

I'd guess their "bias" instruments is just banjaxed in the direction of sensitivity to Anglo-WEIRD countries.

If your instrument is a sort of statistical average derived from the likes of "Statement 1: Dani Rodrik vs Paul Krugman" and "Statement 2: Larry Summers vs Yanis Varoufakis" then you're selecting for stuff that I would surprised to find Brazilian and French and Italian economists to give a care too much about.

'Bias' is probably just coding for how much economists from particular countries participate in the political disputes of rich countries, and err.... you're gonna find that those tend to be economists from rich countries.

'This contradicts the image economists have of themselves'

Which is silly image, as source is important when evaluating claims. But then, economics seems desperate to be seen as a science, instead as part of the humanties, to which it belongs.

"Which is silly image, as source is important when evaluating claims."

This strikes me as problematic. It's often true, from a practical standpoint, but as stated it implies either the non-existence of any objective reality or a willingness to bend the perception of reality to requirements.

You are right, as written in its brief form, it is problematic, since objective reality most certainly exists, and it is impossible for reality to be bent to requirement.

Basically, empirical reality comes fully sourced by its very existence, and this is why there is a distinction made between hard science and the humanities.

But basically, I could not come up with a short way to address your concerns, and draw a distinction.

Mary had a little horse,
Its coat was white as snow,
And anywhere that Mary went
The horse would hardly go.

"It is a wordy and poorly written paper": wot, even by the standards of Economics?

I was one of the research subjects, and recognized some of the misattributions. Wasn’t sure what to make of them—did the study authors not know, or was I misremembering? At any rate, experimental economists prolly won’t go for this, because of the active deception.

Wait, are you THE James Hamilton?

If so, honored to see you here. Saw you speak once.

Negative. Not nearly that cool.

Here’s a summary of a 2014 research paper on bias among economists: The authors distinguished liberal and conservative economists by word choice in published papers (the words are identified in the summary). The authors suggest ideological bias according to word choice, which is also function of topic choice: the topics economists choose to research is largely determined by ideology, the research confirming that ideology. In other words, economists don’t fudge the data, they fudge the results by topic selection.

Why is any of this a surprise?

I have been reading economists for years and it is the only academic discipline I am aware of that is so split along partisan lines.

Maybe Tyler and Alex can fix it.

Perhaps because it is the only social science field that has partisan lines of note.

You're old enough to remember "voodoo economics" aren't you? That charge was leveled by a Republican.

Once upon a time, Milton Friedman was on the outside looking in. Freshwater economics was a blip in the national conversation, while Keynesianism was unchallenged within the field. The freshies only weapon was their annoying propensity to be correct throughout the 1970s.

So, they got a foothold, unlike in most of the social sciences, which remain wedded to their old dogmas.

Economics is way healthier than the rest of social sciences for this reason. Don't be fooled by the partisan posturing, which is the most natural thing in the world in any field with multiple viewpoints.

If you loose your footing, you're supposed to look forward. You are speaking to yourself but you aren't listening. It's an accord but lays waste to the sediment.

That and also being substantially more rigorous than other social sciences.

"Economics is way healthier than the rest of social sciences for this reason. Don't be fooled by the partisan posturing, which is the most natural thing in the world in any field with multiple viewpoints."

Economic is healthier because its moved from science to voodoo?

Keynes was quite scientific in explaining both why individuals acted collectively irrationally plus the effects, and how government could and should act to counter the such action.

While Friedman correctly understood Keynes, he opposed the cycle of increased labor costs to eliminate economic profit resulting in increased demand (from higher incomes) creating scarcity that increased prices which triggered Keynes policy mechnisms to eliminate profits by increasing labor costs, further increasing demand.

Friedman argued for profits (economic, ie scarcity) to damped demand driving gdp growth.

Friedman objected to Keynes statement that
"I feel sure that the demand for capital is strictly limited in the sense that it would not be difficult to increase the stock of capital up to a point where its marginal efficiency had fallen to a very low figure. This would not mean that the use of capital instruments would cost almost nothing, but only that the return from them would have to cover little more than their exhaustion by wastage and obsolescence together with some margin to cover risk and the exercise of skill and judgment. In short, the aggregate return from durable goods in the course of their life would, as in the case of short-lived goods, just cover their labour costs of production plus an allowance for risk and the costs of skill and supervision.

"Now, though this state of affairs would be quite compatible with some measure of individualism, yet it would mean the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital."

"where for Austria, Brazil, and Italy the ideological bias is smallest."

Guarda e passa.

What about Brexit?!! We are being CUCKED here in Britain by our dictatorial Parliament! We are being CUCCCCKED!!!!

Good God, the raving fraud has got something right. Though he can't spell "fucked" apparently.

We needed a study for this?

We battle these knuckleheads and their tribes every day. They get on the Internet and brag about their tribe and their philosophies. We cannot avoid the bias, we are still looking for the one armed economist.

Que? I think you're misusing the joke. It is precisely the non-equivocal one-armed sorts that you should be concerned about regarding ideology and authority.

Ha-Joon Chang mostly provides interesting perspectives about development, but INET does not usually generate high quality discourse.

The article gets a bit carried away as I read it. When the crisis hit in 2008, it needed to be framed, as it were. Who was responsible, etc. I was inclined to believe that capitalism would be blamed if the crisis dragged on, as it has. No surprise, capitalism is blamed. I wasn't too worried about socialism or communism , because, well, they're proven dead ends economically. I was worried about nationalism, not being a fan, and here we are. Nationalism, in my sense, means a loss of cooperation among states, which is very bad for a decent capitalism. A decent capitalism existed in 1933 in the Chicago Plan, as advanced by Simons, Knight, and Fisher, among others. Sadly, it has too much government for some ideologues, and too little for other ideologues. It's just decent and works. I came across an FT post today on Brad Delong's blog from Martin Sandbu. Here's the point...

"The Nordics, then, give vindication to the insight of great liberal centrists of the interwar years: that wise government intervention is good for capitalism, and makes capitalism good for workers. Progressive centrism may have earned itself a bad name in the run-up to the crisis and its aftermath. But if socialists reject it out of purism, they will find their own goals frustrated as well."

I'd be for a bit less government, but the point still stands. The Nordics are capitalist countries. Had we spent more and been more decisive in 2008, we could have stopped the rise in unemployment and avoided the angst about capitalism altogether. As Burke said...

"Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.
Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving but selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment."

A Letter to a Noble Lord (1796)

We had a lot of no sagacity in 2008. You can look it up on MR's library of old posts, if you'd like.

Nice work, +5 internet points

I was worried about nationalism, not being a fan, and here we are. Nationalism, in my sense, means a loss of cooperation among states, which is very bad for a decent capitalism

That Mr. Trump takes a more combative approach to trade negotiations doesn't make your world indecent, though if you're a self-centered twit in the Foreign Service, you might fancy it does.

The objection to 'nationalism' in our time is a social and political one. The objection, by certain professional class types, is that people who are loyal to their families, their local communities, and their country should not make their influence felt through elected officials. If they appear to do so, PLU must intervene through exercises in lawfare, parliamentary maneuver, and the machinations of super national bodies, and various other sorts of gatekeepers. Unlike 'nationalism', this tendency actually is very bad.

Why is it bad? Just because you say so?

For Caning and We're...

"Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue

"MR. MERRIAM: You would repeal all tariffs, would you? MR. HAYEK: I am a convinced free-trader, and free trade is part of the same philosophy. MR. MERRIAM: Without any limitations or qualifications whatsoever? MR. HAYEK: One thing which makes me unhappy is that so many people who take up my book are not free-traders and do not see that this is an essential part of the same philosophy. MR. MERRIAM: Are you against price parity for the farmer? MR. HAYEK: If “price parity” means that a particular price is to be insured by the government, I certainly am, because it means the price system of competition is completely ineffective. MR. MERRIAM: You think, then, that if we are to avoid the road to serfdom, we must repeal all tariffs and the price parity for the farmers? MR. HAYEK: It would be one of the most certain means to avoid that path."

I'm very influenced by Hayek. You both should try reading him if you haven't. Just look up his ideas on tariffs.

Here you go. I don't claim to be original...

"Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
― George Orwell

Orwell, as usual, is timeless.

Yet, the chattering class today certainly seems not to bear his distinction in mind, and to call what Orwell would call patriots under that definition, nationalists.

What is present day 'nationalist' rhetoric but defensive? Its about preventing decline, preventing cultural and demographic shift. Defensive, without much of a trace for talk of power over other nations, and indeed the dialogue is militarily isolationist and deglobalizing.

But the bien pendants hate it anyway. They call it gloomy and pessimistic ("America was always great.... except for all these things the left hates about it").

Patriotism, for them, seems to be only an identification and pride in a nation, allied to the sentiment that all is under control and nothing defensive need be done with regard to other cultures and nations, and that any problems we have come from within and our leaders (but not our 'experts' of course) and must be solved by more 'openness'.

Wow you rarely get such an unapologetic defense of white supremacy in public.

The Neo-Nazi swipe towards cosmopolitans is also extremely unsubtle. Basically the exact same rage and phobia as the Pittsburg and El Paso shooters.

Nationalism is inherently racist. This is now completely uncontroversial among your betters, we have PhDs.

There is a certain white supremacist faction that argues about borders and immigration. They’re no different from Nazis stuffing Jews in ovens.

News flash: if you turn away refugees you’re the Eichmann of 2019.

"Nationalism is inherently racist." Patriotism is spoken in capital letters, also while standing up. Unless your Colin Kaepernick “Fundamentally, the question of architecture is not the isolated building but the city,” Mendes da Rocha told me when we met at his studio in an undistinguished São Paulo high-rise in February. “A house is always a public space.”

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