Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stick to Philosophy

Philosopher (or alchemist?) Gary Gutting likes to write about important issues, applying philosophical principles to current events in a NYTimes blog called "The Stone". Perhaps he should stick to philosophy. In his most recent piece, weighing in on Perry's economic record, he tries to remain above the fray but only succeeds in sounding pompous. First, he makes a logical error in attributing to Investors Business Daily a "logical fallacy" of confusing correlation with causation. But the IBD article never explicitly claims "causation"; perhaps Gutting disliked IBD's lack of nuance, but that's a far cry from logical fallacy. He is both unkind and wrong there.

Worse, he blunders into economics with this gem.
Of course, it is often easy to see that a particular policy produced a short-term economic effect: Obama’s cash-for-clunkers program caused an increase in car sales.
That may be "easy", but it may or may not be correct. Most economists suspected (both before and after C4C) that the largest impact of the program would be intertemporal substitution - buying a car now instead of earlier or later. Wikipedia summarizes scholarly (and otherwise) evidence and opinion on both sides.

Social science, unlike philosophy, deals only rarely in clean cases. Most economic events have large second-order effects to consider. And philosophy, unlike alchemy, has nothing to do with the Philosopher's Stone.

1 comment:

Matthew Baddorf said...

Mm, sad, he's a fine philosopher.