The role that human nature plays in any human endeavor striving for “truth” has been a subject on our radars for some time. Learning about the nature of things is so often hindered by the baggage we as humanity bring to the party: bias, ignorance to related phenomena, our ability to conceive, social influence, what have you. Science may be the most severe example. The goal is discovering “law” or “truth” about us and our surroundings, yet we are explorers who neither know what “perfect” in context means nor can guarantee we hit that mark (regardless of whether it’s beneficial). Sciences strive to remove humans from the equation as much as possible, and through almost inhuman approach and demonstration we often succeed enough to succeed in discovery. Philosophy has spent a lot of time exploring this conflict via thought, and it has been arguably invaluable in providing alternate views into this problem space.
The benefits in this struggle are obvious…or at least seemingly so. The human element can drive us blind though, and it’s important to at least give that power its due in the pursuit of discovery. Economics–as much as I love its ability to hurt or help us more and more as we evolve the complexities of human trade–has been crippled by this blindness and more importantly the power of the human element to effect it.
I wrote four years ago about an article that got me thinking about a sort of hot button in economics: minimum wage. Our reactions to the topic alone were running hot, and our understanding of our economic condition at the time may easily have been extra fuel for the fire. The more the topic came up, the more my worry shifted from the moral gravity side to the problematic science side. I wondered how we could possibly understand the ramifications of applying MW given the complexities that we’d designed into our modern day economy. How can we guarantee help within a system like that?
It didn’t take long for my concerns to magnify as I saw in discussions the severe polarization that morality brought to the equation. I’d listen to people effectively say they wouldn’t care if they stabbed someone with a tool they intended to help them with. It was much later that I began to understand the role that our tendency to cling to mental systems plays in situations like this. At the time it just seemed like the only unique aspect of that political topic was the obviousness of the paradoxes involved.
The paradoxes were unbelievably more pronounced in Economics. Reading more and more studies showed a frightening trend of applying science in a way designed to prove moral conviction. At first I figured it was just my layman nature w/r/t the topic. As more time goes by though, as I observe more and more that goes on, the less I believe in the concept of the layman at all and the more I see religious devotion to thought and belief systems.
At the time it seemed enough to pick a handful of low-hanging gaping holes in the science of MW study. The idea was to do what I thought was my part, and hope that others might be thinking a little too. Of course, nothing’s changed. It’s now four years later, I still have no formal education in Economics, you may not either, we can still see huge issues in an entire field of study, and that field is only just now starting to grasp the depths of the voids in understanding that they’ve at times willfully created. Check this WP article out:
There’s been so much polarized reaction in the field already. The work here is just scratching the surface. The problem itself is so obvious though: belief is often the enemy of understanding and learning. Hopefully the push here at least succeeds in getting people to think more about how they’re working against their own and shared goals. Hopefully it leads to some more in-depth study. Hopefully the road ends with us actually benefiting on the receiving end.