Economics: Not quite value-free

My Economics professor:

Class 1: “Economics is a value-free science.”

Class 5: Explains why she doesn’t like progressive income taxes, tells a story about why Ronald Reagan stopped making movies (because he would’ve been in a higher bracket), complains about how Warren Buffet makes her annoyed. “It’s violating your property rights!”

Don’t misunderstand me, Katherine Floros is a great Economics instructor and generally lots of fun. I just found the fact that she went from “value-free science!” to “property rights are awesome! Progressive income taxes suck!” in less than a week amusing. It’s cool, though.

Really enjoying how my Political Economy/Power and Money class is tying all sorts of things together. Floros used both the John Locke “justice” argument and the Adam Smith “efficiency” argument to support her leaning toward Classic Liberalism, which in the US is represented by small government conservatives.

The issue with the Lockean argument about the justness of property rights is that not all property rights were acquired justly in the past. So the injustice is built into the current system already – one reason I find the “efficiency” arguments for free markets much more compelling than the “fair” or “just” argument. Robert Nozick talks about this in his 1974 Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He acknowledged that poverty may be the result of past injustice and therefore government redistribution might be legitimately used to assist the poor. Most current offshoots of Classic Liberalism ignore this conclusion.

Of course, with the efficiency arguments you get into the problems of asymmetric information, imperfect competition, negative externalities… And so on.

Seriously though: Power and Money (POL_SC 4750) is the bestest. To all the Mizzou folks: If you’re looking to fill a non-Journalism upper division requirement you should TAKE THIS CLASS.

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Science and Faith Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

After reading a nonsensical screed about how all Democrats must be atheists – or something, it was really nonsensical – I thought I’d just point this out.

Just because someone believes in God (or some other Greater Being) doesn’t mean they can’t be scientists. Or understand science and accept the preponderance of evidence supporting the theory of evolution.

On the flip side, just because someone has accepted the theory of evolution as the best explanation doesn’t mean they have to reject God. And just because they believe God had a hand in the emergence of human life on Earth doesn’t make them anti-science.

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Perry and Romney Showdown: I’d put money on the Texan

It’s official! Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are the front-runners in the battle for the GOP presidential nomination.

Before we go any further, let us consider the historical value of poll numbers at this point in time. This time last election cycle Rudy Giuliani held a commanding lead with 38 percent support among Republican primary voters according to a CBS news poll. Sen. John McCain trailed in fourth behind Romney and Fred Thompson. Mike Huckabee, who proceeded to win the Iowa caucus, take seven other states and capture 20 percent of the vote, wasn’t even on the radar as a possible front-runner.

RealClearPolitics has an excellent chart of their average poll numbers for the 2008 GOP presidential candidates from Feb. 2007 to March 2008. I recommend you take a look, just to get an idea of how wildly those poll number can change in a matter of weeks.

Now that I’ve pointed out how useless polls at this point are, I’m going to proceed to use the most recent round of results as a framework to consider the race. Because that’s just how it’s done. Everyone agrees that polls aren’t very predictive but we still like to report and analyze them to death.

So far, Romney hasn’t targeted any of the other candidates with any real focus. Romney did comment that he was the only candidate with both business and government experience while campaigning in New Hampshire earlier this month. Perry’s response? To blow a kiss and say, “Give him my love.”

A Politico article published yesterday about a potential personal rivalry between the two candidates has generated a lot of talk. The first opportunity to see these two go head-to-head will be on Sept. 7 at the debate sponsored by the Reagan Library, NBC News and Politico.

Romney and Perry both have their weak points – but Perry has the momentum and some very appealing characteristics that could pull support from Romney and attract more Tea Party supporters. Read more of this post

What is “Unexpected” Economic Data?

This is something I’ve been puzzling about for awhile: where and from whom do business journalists get their expectations about economic data?

Getting through the entire Wall Street Journal is a time consuming proposition – especially when you let your online subscription lapse. I like to check in and see what the stock markets and commodities are doing, but I generally don’t read a whole lot of economic indicator articles. Skimming the headlines, maybe reading an entire article occasionally is enough for me to know that yup, economy still sucking.

Conservative bloggers, ever alert for the awful liberal bias of those lamestream media lemmings in the news, have been pointing out the frequent use of the word “unexpectedly” when reporters describe negative economic indicators. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, regularly links on Instapundit to articles with “unexpectedly” in them – usually with an accompanying disparaging comment. Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner has also commented. Jim Geraghty magnanimously suggests that it isn’t all the media’s fault because many bank economists tend to be optimistic about the recovery as well. Geraghty, writing over at the National Review Online, ends with this excellent jab:

If you ever have to get into a fistfight, make sure your opponent is an economist often consulted by the mainstream media, because that way you’ll always have the element of surprise.

Ha! Fistfights! Economists! Man, economics and economists are soooooo abused. Good thing I’m only getting a minor in that.

So, let’s apply a little journalistic strateegery to this problem.

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A Foolish Challenge Issued; Poorly Answered

As anyone who’s watched my Facebook feed for a day during the summer might know, I enjoy reading political opinion pieces. A good source of those? RealClearPolitics.

Today, they had links to Jonathan Alter’s column titled You Think Obama’s Been a Bad President? Prove It and the answer from Peter Wehner, You Want Proof Obama’s a Failure? Here It Is.

Hilarious.

Alter’s challenge?

With foreign policy mostly off the table, hiring a Republican means buying his or her jobs plan. Firing Obama means rejecting where he has come down on big decisions. He and Romney will unveil their jobs plans in September. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from Democrats, Republicans and especially independents who voted for Obama the last time but have given up on him now. Why?

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Political Economy insults Economics; Economist insults Economics

My Econ professor: “Economics is a value free science.”

My Power and Money reading: “Maintaining the myth of value-free economics poses corresponding dangers. First, economics embodies ethical judgements that would be controversial if made explicit. When there judgements are introduced into policy under the guise of science, one set of values prevails without public debate” (Political Economy: A Comparative Approach by Barry Clark).

Me: *facepalm* This should be interesting.

I’m taking four Political Science courses and one Economics courses. Power and Money aka Political Economy looks to be the most interesting/fun class. Since I handily avoided buying the $114 readings packet by using the library, I will relish it all the more.

This also made me think of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Stephen Moore about the witchcraft that is macroeconomics. He basically said that all those stupid Keynesians should be re-evaluating their theories but instead “Prof. Romer recently complained that the political system will not allow Mr. Obama to ‘go back and ask for more’ stimulus.”

So basically Moore, who left his position at the Free Enterprise Fund (which lobbied for, among other things, the privatization of Social Security) to join the Journal’s editorial board, is doing what he does best and advocating for supply-side economics. Good for him. I’m just not sure he actually knows what macroeconomics is? Or maybe I don’t.

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Coverage of Libya at the Times

The New York Times has a good example of thorough, multi-part, multi-format coverage in its reporting on Libya. In other words, they have many of the elements of multimedia journalism that Prof. Rice brought up in our first lecture – and a few that he didn’t spend as much time on.

Several photo galleries and slideshows portray the battle for Libya. These are really powerful images from photojournalists working for wire services and the New York Times.

The Times has posted several TV style video reports as part of their TimesCast online-video push. This one is of Libyans destroying symbols of the regime.

And my favorite part of their multimedia package: infographics for the win! Prof. Rice didn’t really talk very much about infographics, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be doing any for the J2150 class as far as I can tell. To me, this seems unfortunate because infographics are a really powerful way to convey information to readers in an interesting, visually appealing way. Multimedia is all about finding the best way to tell a story, and some stories just make more sense when laid out with both text and visuals as opposed to one or the other.

For example, we have this excellent combination of visual elements (maps and symbols) and text explaining how the Libyan rebels took Tripoli in “A Final Surge.” This graphic tells the reader how the movement of the rebels toward Tripoli progressed, There’s another, less involved but still useful infographic of Gadhafi’s family tree.

The Times has also utilized social media – but not as well as you might expect. Their main reporter on the ground in Libya, David D. Kirkpatrick, doesn’t have a Twitter… which is unfortunate. He has filed and contributed several stories though. What the Times has done is created a list in Twitter of tweets about Libya from trusted sources. That can be found here. The issue with the list format is that it’s following “people” who aren’t tweeting solely about Libya. @Reuters just tweeted about the GOP nomination race, and it showed up on the Libya list curated by the Times.

The best place on the Times website for live, up-to-date information on Libya from multiple sources in multiple formats is their blog The Lede. It’s title is a charming play on the newspaper style spelling of the first graf of a hard news story. The lede is meant to give you the most important information right off – and hopefully make you want to read the rest of the story. The Lede has been frequently updated throughout the course of the Arab Spring. It’s not solely dedicated to those events, but rather the Times pulls it out whenever there’s a high interest event that people want continuous coverage of. This blog has it all: embedded photos and video, links to other news sources, embedded tweets from people on the ground. The embedded tweets were particularly dramatic when Gadhafi loyalists held journalists in the Rixos hotel in Tripoli by Gadhafi loyalists.

I didn’t find any examples of audio-only or audio-slideshow pieces on Libya created by the Times. Doesn’t really surprise me. I don’t know why but audio-only works seem to fall by the wayside. Prof. Rice did say that the audio is more important than the visual in videos, but I don’t really think that’s true. Think of all the citizen-journalist videos – they have awful video quality and awful audio quality (most of the time) but the content of the video, the events they portray, are compelling. Several examples of such video have come out of Libya, Tunisia, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Maybe I’ll be convinced by this course about the relative power of audio to video. I like NPR pieces! I just get the feeling that when you’re on the Internet and you’re given the choice, you’d take just video over just audio. It probably depends on the event, though.

Of course, the Times can basically do whatever it wants. Maybe they’re just leaving the audio stuff to NPR…