Ideology and Economics

The other day I posted about Art Pope and the New Yorker article that exposed his vested influence on NC state politics and our own economics department here at NCSU.

All this, a commenter, plus the general divisiveness of the times, has me thinking about how ideology affects economics, even when money isn't buying influence.  Most of us shape our ideological views at a young age and events rarely change them much.  That's probably as true for economists as it is for everyone else.  And since so much of economics has implications for policy and politics, our ideological leanings can easily influence our views about how the economy works.

So how can we objectively analyze how our economic system works given our deeply imbued ideologies?

Short answer: We can't; but we can and ought to try very hard.

Long answer:

First, I think one needs to acknowledge that one has an ideology.  I've long tried to eschew ideology, and in that vein lean heavily toward empiricism. But to pretend one is fully objective basically advertises the fact that one is not.

Second, one ought to consider carefully what one's ideological adversaries say and write.

Third, one ought to try to anticipate what one's ideological adversaries might say or write in response to our own analysis, and directly address those specific anticipated points in advance.  Don't bury these issues with a slight of hand or a math trick--address them head on, and acknowledge when the other side has a point.

Fourth, one ought not take one's ideological adversaries' positions out of context or otherwise mis-characterize them (which means you must truly try understand them---the second point).

Fifth, one ought to consider the facts or evidence that would be necessary to convince you that your own position or analysis is wrong and that of your ideological adversaries is right.  If you cannot imagine what that evidence might be then there is a good chance ideology is clouding your analysis and judgement.

Sixth, spend some time on research about which your ideology does not point toward any particular answer, and draw on this experience when researching more, er, sensitive topics.

And finally, a few links that inspired this post.

Ayn Rand's philosophy of "Objectivism" (Art Pope's worldview, I think)

Paul Krugman: "Everyone Has an Ideology"

Exchange between Paul Krugman and Russ Roberts:  "I Am Not Your Mirror Image"
(It's important to follow the links in this last post.)


  1. Mike good, thoughtful post. I agree that everyone has an "idealogy" if that's what Krugman wants to call it. Certainly we all bring our preconceived notions to the table in everything we do and think about.

    But I would say the difference between an "ideologue" and a "non-idealogue" is that the idealogue looks for evidence to confirm the ideology and is not all that interested in the truth (he already "knows" the truth in his own mind). The non-idealogue has a prior that is shaped by his ideology but he is willing to update the prior as new information comes in. Certainly we see both types in academia, and in our politics.

    My personal "ideology" is that the ideologue is a fairly destructive individual responsible for many failed social experiments in history (Mao, Stalin, Neocons) whereas non-ideologues are the ones that have enough humility to assimilate new information and to know that they don't always know the "truth." Einstein is an example of a brilliant man who was very humble. They drive human progress and are like the philosopher kings that Plato talked about. Of course I'm willing to update my prior about this :)




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