Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Save lives - sack the economists

An amusing piece from Gristmill's Gar Liplow who has a good rant against economists with Lomborgian tendencies (or maybe just all economists).

Ranking suffering
One of the subtlest and most dangerous flaws haunting environmental analysis is the tendency to view the world as some sort of moral health club. The world is not a series of tests; it is an imperfect place we do our imperfect best to make better.

Bjørn Lomborg, for example, loves to point out you can save more lives per dollar by funding clean water or mosquito netting than by fighting global warming. Economists and statisticians deal with the hard choices -- for other people anyway. I notice Lomborg never suggests that people would be better off donating money to UNICEF than buying copies of his books, or paying his speaking fees. I've never heard of a study comparing the benefits of funding economics departments at universities to mosquito nets; maybe we could get by with one-third of the economists, and use 66 percent of the money we currently spend on various types of economics to help save the lives of poor people.

I expect economists would answer back indignantly that you could find money for mosquito netting lots of other places before you cut back on their departments. Economic studies provide valuable benefits, information we need. And they would be right. (If I was in a mood to provoke I would ask to see analysis showing they provide net benefit, given all the harm incompetent and dishonest economists do.) Fundamentally it is an unfair question.

Now that is what I call a good old fashioned blog post. The article continues in a similar style.

Which third of economists should get the boot first? That is the question.


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