Saturday, May 21, 2011

How Do Anonymous Political Scientists View Economists?

This discussion  at Political Science Job Rumors (don't ask why I read it) is informative.   Kristof of the NY Times wrote a piece celebrating randomized trials as a source of credible information about effective interventions for helping the poor.  Michael Kremer and Ted Miguel's piece on "deworming" is discussed in detail.   Here is one comment by a political science scholar called "Anon"


True that "deworming = GOOD".

Where poli-sci comes in though, is that many economists would assume that once this information is out there, that deworming is highly cost effective, then the work is done.

Years later, said economists will be surprised that Govt X hasn't actually done any deworming despite the clear cost-benefit argument, because the economists won't have thought through the political incentives facing Govt X that led them to do something else. Or, when Govt Y channels their deworming money first to Favored Ethnic Group Z, it turns out to be the last straw that provokes a brutal civil war, leading to more dead children than if you'd let the worms alone. Confused, sad economist.

(yes, smart economists get those issues, just as smart political scientists understand marginal utility. But neither discipline is made up of 100% smart people) "

This funny sketch is why serious economists have carved out the nascent field of "political economy" --- when a "free lunch" is discovered --- will it be grabbed or are there powerful interest groups who will slow down the pursuit of the pareto optimum?

Some of the world's top economists are hard at work on this general topic.  Don't believe me?  Then go to this NBER Webpage and start reading!

Economists are aware of the weaknesses of our field.  There are strong incentives to address these shortcomings and to make intellectual progress.  We do watch developments in psychology, sociology and political science and like the Borg from Star Trek we bring these ideas back to the our "mother ship".