Rhetoric and Evidence, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Economics

It often takes the words of others to cement your own beliefs and even illustrate your own ideas. This morning I heard such words (spoken at a public radio station in New York, transported accross the world via the internet, and blasted into my ears via my much-too-large headphones – amazing really) from Amy Finkelstein:

If I talk to a friend of mine, for example, who’s a law professor, they’ll often describe their research as, “I’m trying to make the following argument.” I never hear my fellow empirical economists ever describing their research as, “I’m trying to make the following argument” … I think ultimately the more we can learn from data, the more we can figure out what’s going on, rather than just make rhetorical arguments that may or may not win the day because you’re a clever debater.

There is something noble about the pursuit of truth – the journey which I, a little naively, call science. Economics often gets a bad rap because bad economists find their principals in rhetoric and discourse. Good economists however use principles that have a deep root in the scientific pursuit like data, evidence and logic. It’s when these economists have such a positive impact on our society – when they allow us to ration scarce resources in a more efficient manner and unlock unexploited benefits – that I feel proud to be an economist.

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