Two fascinating essays over at the Cafe Hayek by Russ Roberts, in order, here and here. Economic buffs can skip the rest of this paragraph but for the benefit of those who happily avoid economics on the sensible basis that not only is it the "dismal science" but also the incomprehensible science, let me tell you that Paul Krugman is a distinguished economist and Nobel prize winner who writes for the NYT, and that Mr. Roberts is a terrific economics swot at various universities who also writes for the MSM. I should also add the critical information that Mr. Krugman is a Keynesian who believes that governments hold the key to all macro-economic problems. (Just to confuse matters, well this is economics, there are those who would maintain that Keynes's views were rather more nuanced than that.) On the other hand, Mr. Roberts is an 'Austrian' - no, no, not by nationality, he is a follower of the 'Austrian school' of economic philosophy which is exemplified in the works of Friedrich Hayek and which can be (very) roughly summed up as 'almost everything a government does in the economic field is "A Bad Thing"', to use the old Sellars & Yeatman phrase. Thus, you can see that Messrs. Roberts and Krugman approach our current economic woes from directly opposite directions. Well, it was ever thus in economics!
However, Mr. Roberts's two articles have a very much wider scope than just mere economics. In them he suggests that the differences between himself and Mr. Krugman are ideological, that is, that they stem not so much from a strictly analytical and scientific basis but from their differing 'worldviews'. He doesn't say this but I will, economics is like a number of other subjects which pretend to be scientific but are really only what I call 'semi-science'. In other words, the conclusions you come to depend to a great extent on where you started from. As Mr. Roberts puts it:
But the key point I was trying to make when invoking ideology, is that Krugman and I and most economists have a worldview. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not an indictment or a criticism. It’s simply true. That worldview may be based on casual observation, various principles that make sense to us about how the world works, facts of various kinds, and more statistically sophisticated forms of evidence.
That, I believe, is absolutely spot on and can be applied to any number of other 'semi-sciences' such as global warming, Darwinism and so forth. Mr. Roberts goes on:
We come to these views in various ways. They are part of our experience, our upbringing, our education, our thinking, and our observations of the world around us. They are inevitably philosophical and ideological at least in part and often in whole. We use these worldviews to filter and understand new information and process that information accordingly. That is not the way most economists or social scientists or even plain scientists think of themselves. They think of themselves as truth-seekers. (Journalists, by the way, have a very similar disconnect between how they view themselves and how I suspect they actually behave.) Truth-seekers look at the facts, allegedly uninfluenced by prior biases, philosophies, theories, and ideologies.
My emphasis above, and examples of what Roberts says can be seen on any of the global warming sites. He continues:
My claim is that this image of ourselves as pure truth-seekers is a fantasy. Facts don’t speak for themselves. We have to have some kind of worldview to interpret the facts, to filter them, to process them, to organize them. We all suffer from confirmation bias. Facts that challenge our worldview tend to be ignored, minimized, or dismissed as irrelevant.
Ouch! That certainly applies to me. It also, I think, applies outside of 'semi-science' even, or especially, into the world of politics. I have remarked before, in considering the various candidates for the Republican nomination, that so-called intellectual knowledge, or experience in high government office, is not the criteria by which they should be judged. It is their underlying 'worldview' which is critical, all else flows from that. We have, according to the (dim) lights of MSM commentary a university-educated intellectual in the White House today and bar a small minority he is generally reckoned to be an outstanding failure as a president. The reason, in my opinion, is obvious, his entire 'worldview' is skewed in the wrong direction, and therefore, as sure as night follows day, his actions will prove to be disasterous. It is also why I instinctively draw towards the likes of Sarah Palin and Herman Cain, because their 'worldview' is, in my opinion, clear-eyed and, on the whole, accurate and on that fairly firm base of relative reality they can be trusted to operate and re-act to 'unknown unknowns' in a sensible manner. Mitt Romney (and also I suspect Rick Perry), of course, has no 'worldview' beyond getting his arse into the Oval Office armchair. That is not to disqualify him from the job but one cannot do other than harbour considerable doubts.
I urge you all to read Mr. Roberts's two articles and then apply them to a wider 'worldview'!