by Mario Rizzo
I don’t know where Brad DeLong acquired his philosophy of economics. DeLong responded to an article by Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, on “austerity.” The following is part of what the Financial Times edited out of the published version. DeLong posted it on his blog. He says there are two types of economists:
“One type chooses, for non-economic and non-scientific reasons, a political stance and a political set of allies, and twiddles and tunes their assumptions until they come out with conclusions that please their allies and their stance. The other type takes the carcass of history, throws it into the pot, turns up the heat, and boils it down, hoping that the bones and the skeleton that emerge will teach lessons and suggest principles that will be useful to voters, bureaucrats, and politicians as they try to guide our civilization as it slouches toward utopia. (You will not be surprised to learn that I think that only this second kind of economist has any use at all.)”
So either you are an ideologue masquerading as a person of science or you are a historicist, a person who discovers truths innocently – that is, without theory – approaching the data and extracting something out of them.
What? Can he really mean this? I guess he can. But surely this is a greatly impoverished philosophy of science. The former is just intellectual fraud and the second is impossible if taken at face value. You cannot hope to extract anything from the data of history without some prior provisional theory. Data are constructed. Important and relevant events are chosen while the unimportant are downplayed.
What are the principles according to which data are constructed? What are the factors or standards by which some events are chosen as relevant? These are theoretical issues. In an important sense the carcass, the boiling, and the pot itself are creations of theory.
Since the second type of economist is impossible, the reality is that the two types of economists to which DeLong refers are really the same: ideologues masquerading as scientists. In DeLong’s world: Either you consciously and deliberately distort science for extra-scientific purposes or you unconsciously distort it for non-scientific purposes. Either you are an explicit ideologue or an implicit ideologue.
The implicit ideologue deceives himself as well as others. He acquires his ideology as a result of prejudices, psychological needs, fantasies and so forth. Although the deliberate deceiver is morally reprehensible, the implicit ideologue is pathetic and perhaps more dangerous because he really believes he is objective.
Fortunately, science is possible. It need not be either explicitly or implicitly disguised ideology.
We have learned more about how Brad DeLong practices economics from the above quotation than we have about the discipline of economics.