Friday, September 12, 2008

Is Politics Allowed on Economics Blogs?

A recent comment on this CD post suggested that politics should not be discussed on an Economics/Finance blog like Carpe Diem. Although the focus and majority of my 3,100 CD posts have been on economics and finance issues, it's not realistic to hold politics off-limits for any comprehensive economics blog.

Searching Harvard economics Professor Greg Mankiw's blog for the words "Obama" and "McCain" I found 288 and 239 references, respectively. Searching Carpe Diem, I found 285 references for Obama and 168 references for McCain, and I think that those searches include comments for CD, but not for Greg's blog (comments are now allowed). Searching Marginal Revolution, I found more than 1,000 references each for McCain, Obama and Palin. Search any of the other top academic economics blogs like Freakonomics, Paul Krugman, Cafe Hayek, etc., and you'll find hundreds, if not thousands of references to presidential candidates.

As far as any students taking any of my classes, under no circumstances or conditions are you ever required to read Carpe Diem, and there would be no way that I would ever even know if you read it or not!

And for students taking MGT 551 Business Economics this semester, please note that the title of our Gwartney textbook is ECONOMICS: PRIVATE AND PUBLIC CHOICE, and note that "public choices" are those made through the public sector, most often by PUBLICLY-ELECTED officials. Since either Sarah Palin or Joe Biden will soon be the second most powerful publicly elected official in the country, it would seem relevant to discuss either of them on an economics blog.

Carpe Diem!

19 Comments:

At 9/12/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

That's an illuminating and intelligent set of comments, Mark --- and much to your credit . . . just as your telling your students they don't have to read your blog is a sign of your professional integrity, and something very welcome to hear in universities these days.

.....

Your textbook choice, too, is commendable --- and I say this as a non-libertarian, who finds that the Gwartney et al book is the best introductory work around. Too bad, like other texts, it's priced sky-high.

......

A personal note if you'll excuse it now.

When I taught at UC Santa Barbara --- international relations courses in security, foreign policy, global political economy, economic development, and IR theory-building --- I went a step further than you, mainly because such subjects are inherently political . . . no way around it for a political scientist.

Specifically, I told the students that they did not have to agree with my views in order to get a good grade. Any criticisms, though, had to rest squarely on the concepts, examples, and theory-building found in the variety of readings my courses required . . . as well as on the alternative views of these matters that my lectures specifically dealt with.

......

Oh, by the way: to ensure that the students were doing their own papers for the course --- I required one or two in each course --- I set the subjects (usually a couple of alternatives) and required that their sources be drawn from a list of required and recommended readings on the syllabus.

Otherwise, these days, I fear, you never know how a student paper could be concocted --- and by whom.

......

Too bad our politically correct brethren don't see their professional responsibilities in the way you do. Eventually, as studies show, the 1960s generation of tenured radicals is retiring or dying off, and the new generation of professors are likely to define their teaching responsibilities --- and maybe their scholarship --- in more traditional and hence far less indoctrinating ways.

.....

Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

 
At 9/12/2008 6:02 PM, Anonymous QT said...

I imagine that there is an element of voter fatigue to the original comment. It is very easy for these discussions to devolve to the partisan.

The idea of considering subjects from a myriad of viewpoints and weighing the evidence presented by each poster in support of their arguments is the very strength of a blog which draws posters from varied cultures, geographic locations, professional backgrounds and life experiences.

Must agree with Mark that economics often concerns itself with matters of public policy which are the purview of government.

 
At 9/12/2008 6:14 PM, Blogger bob wright said...

Mr. Gordon,

I am curious why you

".. required that their sources be drawn from a list of required and recommended readings on the syllabus."

Could not this be construed as an attempt to control the viewpoints from which an opposing argument is made?

I understand your motivation, but this would seem to be some what of a conundrum.

 
At 9/12/2008 6:43 PM, Anonymous Lars said...

Dr. Perry, politics and economics have become intertwined, as a matter of reality, so I say go for it. You always present rational, intelligent commentary and evoke useful (to me anyway) discussions.
Look forward to your insights.

 
At 9/12/2008 6:45 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

It’s impossible to discuss economics and finance without discussing politics. You may as well add “politics” to the blog title. After all, up to 50% of our pay is confiscated before we even see our pay check for the week; that money is sent to one government entity or another. Quite obviously, then, many of the topics will naturally turn on the answer to two questions: 1) How much should our taxes be and who should pay what marginal rate? and 2) What should the tax money be spent on?

To think that politics can be removed from an intelligent economic discussion is rather naïve. I guess you could think of the conceptual framework as economics being the theory in a perfect world and politics being the practice in the real world.

buggy professor,

I have to agree with Bob Wright. I would have a problem with a professor determining the sources for my paper. He might as well write it, too. I was a writing tutor, I teach classes with a writing component, and I can usually pick out plagiarized material quickly. I doubt that I am a unique instructor because most plagiarism is terrible and sticks out like a sore thumb. I’ve only had to address the issue a few times because the students are told right off the bat in the syllabus, and in the very first class, they will be flunked and possibly expelled from school for that type of cheating.

 
At 9/12/2008 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US ins now clearly headed toward Socialism as each bailout of the financial community rises the two will become inseparable.

 
At 9/12/2008 7:42 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Well put, walt g. As usual, spot on the nose and leading by a furlong.

I also wondered about the limiting of sources. It seems that the point of the exercise is learning to use evidence to support your claims and evaluating different sources of information. By specifying the source material, the student does not have the opportunity to learn to distinguish between credible and biased sources. He/she is not looking at the methodology and checking for errors.

We are bombarded with information every day making the ability to evaluate information ever more critical.

 
At 9/12/2008 9:44 PM, Anonymous thomas blair said...

Perhaps the problem of limiting one's available sources to those that can be shown directly to the teacher, i.e., bring the book/journal/article by the professor's office.

 
At 9/12/2008 9:46 PM, Anonymous thomas blair said...

Perhaps the problem of limiting one's available sources to those that can be shown directly to the teacher, i.e., bring the book/journal/article by the professor's office.

Ack.

Perhaps the problem of possible plagiarizing can be solved by limiting one's available sources to those that can be shown directly to the teacher, i.e., bring the book/journal/article by the professor's office.

 
At 9/12/2008 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great blog greg,, keep it up

 
At 9/13/2008 6:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Perry,
Once your critics have you explaining yourself they win. I doubt they ever explain their motives to anyone. I enjoy the blog immensely. Thank you.
Ed
Andover, MA

 
At 9/13/2008 8:48 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

thomas blair,

That's why the source has to be cited correctly. If it's not cited, popping a string of about 4 or 5 suspicious words together in an Internet search engine usually shows the correct source. Students who do not take the time to do the work don't seem to take much time to cheat in a way they won't get caught!

 
At 9/13/2008 9:04 AM, Anonymous QT said...

Aren't computers wonderful! :)

 
At 9/13/2008 10:36 AM, Blogger the buggy professor said...

I am curious why you

".. required that their sources be drawn from a list of required and recommended readings on the syllabus."

Could not this be construed as an attempt to control the viewpoints from which an opposing argument is made?

I understand your motivation, but this would seem to be some what of a conundrum.

-- Bob Wright

I. Not to worry, Bob. The selections I required the students to use for their paper or papers purposefully contrasted different viewpoints.

For instance, on the deep recurring causes of warfare --- known in every civilization, ever since territorial states arose 6000 years ago --- required the students to compare and contrast readings that stressed
(1) biological, hard-wired causes in human behavior . . . going back millions of years to our pre-human ancestors (and chimps, the only other species to engage in organized group warfare with one another),

2)socio-cultural influences, such as them-us ethnic-nationalist distinctions . . . studied intensely now for 50 years by social psychologists and reflected in two empirically established theories: minimal group conflict and social identity theory.

In minimal group conflict, first studied in the 1950s and 1960s, volunteer teen-agers were put together in a summer camp, then divided arbitrarily into two groups. Set apart, they then interacted sporadically, and within hours became competitive and --- to the dismay of the original social psychologists --- so aggressive and violent that they had to call off the original experiment in just two or three days.

Of course, as a couple of the readings showed, such them-us ethnic distinctions (and minimal group ones) could be hard-wired in our brains.

3) Political explanations, such as democratic peace theory.

The original theory, liberal and culminating in Woodrew Wilson's views, held that democratic countries are inherently peaceful. The evidence runs contrary to that (though there are still a few statistical disputes here). The more up-to-date theory holds that democratic countries don't go to war with one another.

As the Russian invasion of Georgia just showed, the theory --- which may be generally sound in a statistical probability sense --- is highly sensitive (as lots of political and economic theories are) to definitional matters . . . in this case, the definition of democracy.

And in bivariate analysis (democracies do go to war with one another or not), there are statistical problems: ignored interdependence of variables --- e.g., Israeli-Lebanon relations are in part conditioned by each country's interaction with the US (a form of omitted variable) --- and data-problems, such as whether there have been enough democratic countries and wars generally in, say, the last 200 years to produce outcomes that are statistically sound with, say, a 5% or less likelihood that those outcomes can be distinguished from random occurrence.



....

II. The students were obliged to read pros and cons in all three categories, compared the three theories, show that they had mastered the arguments, then spend time indicating which of the theory or theories were most compelling to them, and why.

.....

Similar diversity and clashing theoretical views were reflected in all the readings on the syllabuses for my classes, including on global political economy and economic development.

The same was the case when I taught an entire course on the war on terror after 9/11, making doubly sure that the syllabus reflected a whole range of viewpoints . . . excluding, however, the paranoia-infested pathologies in conspiratorial witch-hunting about the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country.

......

III. The main problem I had, over the years, was ensuring that enough new readings would appear on recurring courses --- like International Relations theory --- so that student papers (and exams) couldn't just draw on the papers and exams written by, say, students at fraternities and sororities who compile A and A- papers over the years too.

Invited for dinner once at a sorority by some of my students, I was shown one of these compilations by a student after I expressed curiosity about them.

......

Michael Gordon, AKA, the buggy professor

 
At 9/13/2008 4:04 PM, Blogger DB said...

"Once your critics have you explaining yourself they win."

I agree...I don't think it needed an explanation but you set the record straight in a very professional manner. I think you're doing a fantastic job and your blog provides a valuable forum for discussing issues, both economic and political. keep up the great work, Mark.
db

 
At 9/14/2008 4:22 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Too bad, like other texts, it's priced sky-high.

Economics at work: The book (11th ed, 2006) is apparently available in .pdf format on P2P via the EDonkey network. .

:o)

> Once your critics have you explaining yourself they win.

Ed, this is generally true, but it's probably not a bad idea to still, on occasion, explain why something might be other than the stated position of the critic.

1) This helps clarify in your own head the distinctions
2) Exercises faculties which ought to be exercised regularly
3) Triggers a natural amount of justification-analysis which is generally good in terms of checking against changed circumstances
4) Exposes your justification-analysis to others for possible criticism and evaluation.


So, at least once in a while, it serves a useful purpose.

My US$.02, and worth every penny!

 
At 9/14/2008 4:30 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> III. The main problem I had, over the years

Yes, from what I understand, especially now, with the internet, it's not particularly hard to get a term paper about virtually any topic. And enterprising (sort of) student could easily search out sources for such papers and possibly go through quite a few courses without actually doing anything other than showing up for the roll-taking. One hopes that tests would show up such behavior, but there are ways to cheat at that, too, not the least of which is the sort of test-compendiums the BP speaks (not to say all usage of such compendiums is cheating, by any means)

 
At 9/15/2008 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting statistics in this post. I know it would be time-consuming, but it would be interesting to break down the references further by whether they were positive or negative. It doesn't surprise me that Obama is referenced more than McCain. It would surprise, given the nature of this blog, if the Obama references were mostly positive.

 
At 9/15/2008 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed, this is generally true, but it's probably not a bad idea to still, on occasion, explain why something might be other than the stated position of the critic.





I agree with this statement. I also believe that it is sometimes beneficial for the blogger to identify his/her own viewpoints on a subject matter. This can sometimes give the reader a frame of reference on what underlying biases may be inherently present even if the blogger is trying to be objective. Over time readers have been able to recognize underlying bias in such news sources as the NYTimes and Fox News, readers don't have the track record to recognize this for some blogs that they are new to.

 

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