Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Beware the Technocrats

Brad DeLong over on Blogggingheads.tv frets:
...It makes me feel very sad for my Republican technocratic opponents

Anyone who thinks "technocrat" implies a scientific, rational, top-down way to manage an economy--as I'm sure DeLong does--is a Keynesian, and probably only a Republican for the social agenda. They exist, but they aren't the kind of Republicans I like.

Reagan, Coolidge, these are my kind of Presidents, and neither were considered very enlightened, because they prioritized doing less at the federal level. Unfortunately, most really smart, educated, people fall prey to such scientism as the assertion that there exists a simple positive correlation between total employment and the size of the aggregate demand for goods and services; it leads to the belief that we can permanently assure full employment by maintaining total money expenditure--from any source--at an appropriate level. Thus to them it's obvious that that top-down management of a large complex process is better than letting it alone. As Fredrich Hayek put it in his Nobel Prize speech:
While in the physical sciences it is generally assumed, probably with good reason, that any important factor which determines the observed events will itself be directly observable and measurable, in the study of such complex phenomena as the market, which depend on the actions of many individuals, all the circumstances which will determine the outcome of a process, for reasons which I shall explain later, will hardly ever be fully known or measurable. And while in the physical sciences the investigator will be able to measure what, on the basis of a prima facie theory, he thinks important, in the social sciences often that is treated as important which happens to be accessible to measurement. This is sometimes carried to the point where it is demanded that our theories must be formulated in such terms that they refer only to measurable magnitudes.

You can measure total employment, which includes the military, people doing census surveys, diversity outreach PowerPoints, environmental impact studies. Having people in jobs that are the best fit for them, in the context of what others really appreciate and what they enjoy doing, isn't in any aggregate data.


michael webster said...

I think that a decent way of making this point is sciences have units, social sciences at best have ordinal and non comparable preferences to work with.

Anonymous said...

The term technocrat has meaning and history

Eric Falkenstein said...

I know 'technocrat' means officially. In practice, it's Keynesian praise, so I find it a pejorative.

dmfdmf said...

I think the focus on and attempts to control aggregate variables ala the Keynesians is a massive error of reversing cause and effect. We can have full employment and high GDP if we all dig holes in our yards in the morning and fill them in the afternoon and force our neighbors to pay for it. Better yet, lets get the country moving again by outlawing all stop signs and stop lights and replace them with the unemployed to direct traffic. Good times and a chicken in every pot are just around the corner if only the pols would listen to Krugman.

Anonymous said...

ooops, i understand now. thanks