Sunday, March 19, 2006

Note: this generalization does not cover all economists, but still a large majority

The world today has become so detached, so "specialized," that human beings think we can categorize our knowledge into bits and pieces and not see connections between different disciplines. Environmentalists are aware of how much we separate ourselves from the non-human environment. But how can we connect with nature when we can't even connect with each other? We all live in a vacuum. Nothing one person does could possibly affect another human being.

Take economics, for example. Just like psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists, economists believe that there exists within their field empirical facts, scientific evidence, the "real world". But economics is a "soft science"--it has no empirical facts. And it is a social science--it relates directly to the human world, human interactions, and human relationships. People who use PoliSci and economics as their dogma may see otherwise. "Politics is about interactions between states and other things related to the government," and "economics is about goods and services, trade and policy."

But what are governments and states made up of? Human beings. What is the purpose of policy? To influence and affect human beings (usually to improve their livelihood, or at least it's supposed to be). Economics is a human invention; purely psychological. We invented money, trade, the ideas of inflation and Gross Domestic Product. A country's economy will grow or have negative growth partly because of whether or not investors (people or organizations of people) have faith in them.

This is why economists must constantly keep in mind how each theory, perspective, and policy implemented affects people. To call someone a "bleeding-heart liberal" for being concerned not just about how an economy is perceived to grow, but also how people are being affected by that economy, is grossly short-sighted. To say that economists (or people in an economics class) must not talk about people, but only about policy, is a contradiction. What is the purpose of policy? To help or influence a government or governing body. And what is the purpose of influencing a government? To help or influence the people ruled by that government.

Why was Adam Smith concerned about bringing Great Britain out of feudalism, into a system where supposedly anyone could make money? To get rid of slavery and the serfdom, so that people could be free to influence their own lives. Why was Karl Marx concerned about labor conditions? Because of how the people were treated. I could go on and on.

To argue that the purpose of economics is not to affect the people, but to affect the growth of a country, is ridiculously abstract. It turns into the country helping its economy for the country's sake, and then there is no purpose. For, what is the purpose of a country if not for people?

"The Long Run"

Economists claim not to be myopic, but to look into the future when they make their decisions. If privatizing the water supply of the city of Cochabomba, Bolivia, destroyed people's lives and demanded a quarter to a half of their monthly income, well, the point isn't so much how those people were affected "then." The point is, privatization would help Bolivia's economy "in the long run," maybe years from that point (when half the residents of Cochabomba are dead), and economic growth always helps the people didn't you know? It's automatic. The wealth of a country is never just owned by the already wealthy. No, there's a Reaganomic "trickle-down effect" as you can see worked so well in Bolivia before, during the privatization of other industries. Or in the former Soviet Union. Just ask anyone who lives in Serbia or the Czech Republic. They'll tell you, "I'm so financially well-off now; gosh I'm happy. The health care here is much better now and there are less poor people on the streets." While no one likes living in a pseudo-tyrannical dictatorship, the former USSR did sacrifice a lot to become a capitalistic "democracy." The cost-benefit analysis doesn't have as obvious an outcome as one might presume. And the rabid anti-communism is now just reminiscent of the McCarthy Era.

Strangely enough, these "far-sighted" economists have trouble getting other long-term effects of policy into their heads: environmental effects, human well-being. Petroleum is an unsustainable resource; anyone with half a brain will admit that. But ask an economist why it's a good idea to keep our dependence on oil without investing much further into sustainable energy resources? "Well, oil's not gonna run out for a long time." "Oh, we're investing enough into sustainable resources, so that by the time a world oil crisis hits, we'll have enough alternative energy sources to sustain us." The former comment reveals true hypocrisy if that economist believes the "in the long run" theories. And there is no way in hell an economist can say the latter if they've actually checked current trends and economic predictions. But no, they're still not short-sighted or anything.

I'd say these economists have what I like to call "selective myopia." You look into the future only if it serves your own interests. And boy, do economists care about self-interest! After all, there is no such thing as true altruism, is there?

The truth is, while examining policy, you have to keep your head on straight. Don't let it get abstract enough that it's just a bunch of numbers to you, and there is no humanity involved.

If all scientists were like economists, they wouldn't even bother with the "inefficiencies" of animal-testing. They'd go straight to experimenting on humans.