Science Doesn’t Care About Researcher’s Feelings. Economics Does.

Science is supposed to be impartial, founded on evidence and not feelings. Yet researchers have found that economists align their models with their moral values. Far from being the relentlessly sceptical inquirers that scientists should be, economists are more concerned with upholding orthodoxies.

Concept of the conference, with a politician behind a desk, who positions himself as a leader by delivering a speech at an election campaign rally. © Pictrider /

May 20, 2024 05:46 EDT

This is part seven of my series on why free market economics is a false religion. If you’re new to the series, start from the first installment here. You can check out the previous installment here.

Free market economics is not science, because personal feelings should never intrude on scientific conclusions. Apparently, economists didn’t get the memo.

Inside the predominant view that accepts economists as scientists is a core belief that their empirical analysis is untainted by bias. Milton Friedman himself said, “Positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments.” Real-world experience, however, suggests otherwise. Researchers Anthony Randazzo and Jonathan Haidt looked at how economists’ personal views can be used to predict their conclusions. They found that economists frequently start with a morally defined idea about how the world should be and then develop models that support those preordained narratives. This cuts both ways. Neoclassical economists tend to share a moral worldview with American conservatives. Those who favor the theories of John Maynard Keynes tend to be more politically progressive. Randazzo and Haidt conclude, “Collectively, this data shows that economists’ substantive conclusions about the workings of the economy are suspiciously correlated with their moral values.”

This is not how science works, of course. Isaac Newton’s personal feelings about apples or preconceptions about right and wrong didn’t affect his theories on gravity. Science is supposed to be provable, testable and untouched by morality and ethics. Howard Schwartz points out that even big daddy Adam Smith saw moral philosophy as separate from his economic theorizing, titling his first book The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

A chemist or physicist can create a controlled experiment and analyze the results to see if it supports their hypotheses. Economists cannot. An economist doesn’t perform experiments at all. Instead, they make “thought experiments” with whatever data points they happen to have at hand like Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo did… you know, famous religious figures.

John Dewey made this same criticism about laissez-faire economics nearly a century ago: “The scientific inquirer knows that they constitute science only in connection with the methods by which they are reached. Even when true, they are not science in virtue of their correctness, but by reason of the apparatus which is employed in reaching them.”

Contrast this with Milton Friedman’s attitude towards his trade’s fancy mathematical equations. In his article “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” he wrote that economists didn’t need to worry too much about whether a given model’s assumptions were correct so long as that model’s predictions “seemed” to correlate with what an economist could see in real life. I don’t think he was supposed to say that part out loud.

“There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths,” wrote Carl Sagan. Scientific inquiry is relentless. Everything must be examined and proven over and over again. Sagan describes how no seemingly settled matter is ever safe.

Even today, hundreds of years later, Isaac Newton’s inverse square law of gravitation is being put to the test. In fact, one of the primary reasons Albert Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity are so important is that they demonstrated how Newtonian physics breaks down when high speeds and huge masses are involved. 

One hundred years after Einstein corrected Newton, modern researchers are poking at ways in which Einstein’s theories might themselves break down. In fact, the scientific community encourages them to do so. The opposite is true in the dismal science of economics.

Carl Sagan saw the similarity between economics and religion when he asked, “What rewards are religious skeptics given by the established religions — or, for that matter, social and economic skeptics by the society in which they swim?”

Sounds like Carl Sagan knew what was up.

[Liam Roman edited this piece.]

[Let’s Make Them Pay first published this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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