01 October 2015

'Liberal' and 'Conservative' Theories

Recently I found myself unfortunately coerced into reading "Jeb Bush Keeps Repeating A Phrase That's Central To A Liberal Economic Theory" (link). The article brought to my attention that the public sees theory in a much different light than I - and hopefully most members of academia - do.

The author asserts the Keynesian economics is a "liberal theory" as if scientific theories (social or otherwise) simply exist to advocate different political positions. This view represents a complete failure to understand the way that science is done. Rather than assuming a conclusion and attempting to prove that conclusion by any means possible, a good scientist will not assume that any position is correct and instead see what the data suggests and come of with a theory that attempts to match that data. Keynesian theory is no more 'liberal' than monetarism is 'conservative'. Yes, both economic ideologies are characterized by differing assumptions, but those assumptions do not come from inherent political bias.

The view of theory presented in the article can be especially dangerous because it allows for politicians to write off any bit of theory on the grounds that it is a 'liberal' theory or a 'conservative' theory. This is how the Cameron government in the UK can ignore the fact that austerity reduces GDP in even the most friction-less models (e.g. here) by arguing that any theory that suggests austerity is contractionary has a liberal bias. 

Behind this whole issue seems to be the idea that every side in any political argument is at least somewhat right regardless of whether their opinions are backed up by academia. Essentially, politicians can redefine the political center whenever they choose and the media won't try and stop them. No matter how insane a policy proposal is, it can not be one hundred percent wrong in the eyes of the public and the media. 

For this reason, the media ought to shift its primary concern from representing each position fairly to determining the facts or the consensus theories and criticizing those who fail to understand or accept them. Policy proposals that are in direct contempt of the scientific consensus should not be tolerated.

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