Thursday, 25 October 2012

John Broome's foolish argument that Economics is essentially Ethical.

Most foolish statement possible on Econ's relationship to Ethics?
Surely this is a contender 'virtually all normative claims in Econ are ethical- for e.g. to claim interest rates ought to go up raises a conflict of interest between lenders and borrowers.'

Why is this nonsense? People who have borrowed did so because they had Credit- it was believed that they could and would repay. People who have lent money are people who believed they would benefit from a future stream of interest plus capital repayments from the borrower. Clearly raising the interest rate today has a redistributional effect only if these are 'floating rate' loans. However, in that case, both borrowers and lenders had a model of the economy, one that includes why and when policy might dictate a change in interest rates, and therefore there is no normative issue here- only one regarding the models used to formulate Expectations. But models aren't normative, they live or die on the basis of their predictive power. To argue otherwise is to believe Natural Selection is normative. Or, more foolish yet, it oughtta be.

Broome gives an example of a normative requirement that isn't ethical- viz.  you ought to clean your car occasionally. He is wrong. The statement is actually either positive- i.e. wash your car iff your Utility function satisfies x, y, z. - or ethical in the sense of altering your ethos- i.e. your preferences. 'It was only when I started washing my car regularly that I finally realized my Dad wasn't a fucking emotional zombie but a deeply gay man who dreamt only of cornholing Jehovah's witnesses the way I will henceforth dedicate my life to doing.'

Broome is a clever clever guy who writes lucidly. But he's a Professor. That's tragic. Like Oedipus- who sets afoot an investigation that will indict him, indict all investigation, as not merely the offender but one rendered thereby so heteronomous as to compound the offence and deprive it of any individuating, and hence instrumental, value- Econ's encounter with Ethics- resonant of that other encounter in a narrow defile between Delphi and Daulis- damningly undoes itself as Project and only blindly persists in haecceity by reason of that dread Deity whose days are delays.

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