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catallaxy in technical exile

John Ralston Saul – an economist replies

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Daniel Barnes, writing in Samuel McSkimming’s ‘Ralston Saul’ entry below, gives a couple of examples of Saul quoting politically-naive statements made by notable economists Kenichi Ohmae and Martin Wolf.

It’s not surprising that Saul was able to find support for his statements: economists write quite a lot, there are a lot of them, and they deal with complex subjects, thus it is more likely than not that there is plenty of naivety on show. So Saul’s statement could be true – you could notice naivety in their pronouncements.

But it would be true only in a trivial sense, and isn’t significant of anything. Replace the word ‘economists’ with the labels ‘people in general’, ‘taxi drivers’, or ‘mad Uncle Jo’, and you’ll find Saul’s statement applies to them, too. For the statement to have any significance, we would have to measure the tendency of economists, taken as a group, to make politically-naive statements, and then see whether this tendency was greater or smaller than the tendency of other groups, such as mad Uncles. If the tendency was greater than for other people (taken as a group), then we might say that: ‘When economists speak about the broader world, they tend to be quite politically naive – even more so than the people/taxi drivers/mad uncles I often encounter.’

So what if Saul’s statement is true? It’s also true of many other people. What’s his point?

Do you still think he’s a ‘great mind’? I’m with Jason: life is too short, read Edmund Wilson instead.

By the way, political scientists don’t have too flash a record either, when it comes to naivety. Read Paul Monk’s review of Philip Tetlock’s book for a demonstration of this:


Written by Admin

December 23, 2005 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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