Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Harvard Students Are Giving Up Economic Theory For Politically Correct Data Collection as Economics

Raj Chetty teaching
 his popular course
There is a new trend among students at Harvard University. Apparently, for some, the thing to do is to ditch the introductory economic theory class EC10 for a course taught by Raj Chetty, "Economics 1152: Using Big Data to Solve Economic and Social Problems."

EC10 is still popular but it is sliding and Chetty's course is gaining.

From the Harvard Crimson:
Economics 10b: “Principles of Economics” has long reigned as spring semester's most enrolled-in class, but this year the course saw a new contender from within its own department — the brand new course Economics 1152: “Big Data."...The new course came in third place overall, behind Economics 10b and Life Sciences 1b.
Economics 10b dropped from an enrollment of  585 in 2018 to 455 students this year. Economics 1152 came in with approx. 400 students.

In a profile of Chetty at Vox, "The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics," by Dylan Matthews, we are told Chetty uses data to focus "on the roots and consequences of economic and racial equality."

Since this is a "data approach," it means there would be no foundational thinking about economic and racial equality, that is, no thinking on a theoretical level as to what causes it and whether economic inequality, for example, might not be a problem. Indeed in "What Socialists Don't Get About Capitalism and Inequality," I do propose that inequality is not a problem. But how would one come to such a conclusion if all one sees is data without a theoretical underpinning?

It is really damn scary stuff, just go out find some data and see what correlates, no prior theoretical economic knowledge required.

From the Economics 1152 description in the Harvard catalogue (my highlight):

The course will give students an introduction to frontier research in applied economics and social science that does not require prior coursework in Economics. Topics include equality of opportunity, education, innovation and entrepreneurship, health care, climate change, and crime. In the context of these topics, the course will also provide an introduction to basic statistical methods and data analysis techniques, including regression analysis, causal inference, quasi-experimental methods, and machine learning. 
Is this an economics course or a course on how to lie with statistics to promote politically correct nonsense?

As I started reading the profile on Chetty, I thought to myself, "This guy is so off the wall, he could have never taken an intro economics course." And then Matthews informed, "Chetty didn't take Ec 10 when he was an undergraduate at Harvard."

He went right into the voodoo data stuff that passes for economics at the graduate level. Now, Chetty appears driven to bring this coprolite down to the introductory level to make, the Keynesian polluted theory that is taught now, even worse by eliminating theory completely.

 Matthews again about the Chetty course:

There’s little discussion of supply and demand curves, of producer or consumer surplus, or other elementary concepts introduced in classes like Ec 10. 
If a Harvard student comes across this post and is taking, or plans to take, Economics 1152, I urge you to do your homework about the strict data approach and research opposing views. Grab a copy of The Counter-Revolution of Science by F. A. Hayek.

Ludwig von Mises discussed the alternative praxeological approach (the study of human action via the deductive approach from basic premises), in several writings including, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science: An Essay on Method and Epistemological Problems of Economics.

And also think about the odd fact that while data economists want to mimic the physical sciences, Albert Einstein wanted to go in the opposite direction.

In  Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder, she writes:

Albert Einstein, who really needs no introduction, worked himself into a state in which he believed that thought alone can reveal the laws of nature: "I am convinced that we can discover by means of purely mathematical constructions the concepts and the laws connecting them with each other, which furnish the key to the understanding of natural phenomena. ... In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed." 
And this from Hossenfelder (my highlight):
String theory has to date no experimental evidence speaking for it...
Richard Dawid, in his book used string theory as an example før the use of non-empirical theory assessment. By this he means that to select a good theory, its ability to describe observation isn't the only criterion. He claims that certain criteria that are not based on observations are also philosophically sound, and he concludes that the scientific method must be amended so that hypotheses can be evaluated on purely theoretical grounds.
In other words, I can't prove this empirically, but on a theoretical basis, Economics 1152 might be a scam. It is certainly moving in a direction different from some very heavy duty thinkers.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.

(ht Dave)

1 comment:

  1. Careful, RW!

    Whitehead argued that the Good Empiricist, radically never going beyond the Data, will be content with observing "Bees on flowers..." with nothing more to see. It is a quite appealing Philosophy. It is easily Co-Opted by our Subject Chetty and others - The encapsulation of Empiricism to Kantian Sensibilities. Chetty does offer a Non-Economic Methodology. It simply does not offer Logic, Evidence or Rational Discussion of the matter.

    "Maff is difficult". The relationship of Mathematics to Perceptions and Behaviors is being lost - and vice versa. The Quants in their cubicles will quantify their feelings about Free Money and its effects on the Macro World without worry of messy choices made by ignorant Consumers.

    Which brings us to Sabine H. I assert the authority of Lubos Motl, who crosses swords with Dr. H with some regularity. Dr. M will spend the entire afternoon quoting pieces of Data that support String Theory Empirically and not even break a sweat. Right now, advantage Motl. The Scientific Method currently needs no modification - Don't throw the baby out with the Hydrodynamic Cleaning Fluid just yet.

    Dirac found his Equation for the Election supposedly by "Pure Thought", with a pencil and a piece of paper but even Feynman stated, I'm no Dirac". In short, replacing Math and Experience (measured in language) with Feelings and Group Think is no improvement. "Thanks a Pile, Hegel...". Gaining Knowledge is a slow and sometimes painful experience.

    "Propositions are lures for feeling" saith Whitehead. He was not giving approval to the very modern "Mobile Logic for Mobile Minds" School of Thought.

    When do the book burnings begin?