Friday, December 31, 2010

Some End of the Year Cluelessness

So here we are on the last day of 2010. Because New Years Day is on Saturday this year, a lot of people have the day off, joining all of us who are members of the long term un/underemployed in watching the world go by. I have the Kentucky-Louisville game on in the background and all I will say about that is "Go Hilltoppers!"

But I can't let the day go without highlighting a couple of end of the year news dump articles in today's NY Times. First up is this article on discussions on creating an Ethics Code for Academic Economists. After opening the article with a short list of some fairly well known political economists who also are in the university world and their undisclosed conflicts of interest the article goes on:

Academic economists, particularly those active in policy debates in Washington and Wall Street, are facing greater scrutiny of their outside activities these days. Faced with a run of criticism, including a popular movie, leaders of the American Economic Association, the world’s largest professional society for economists, founded in 1885, are considering a step that most other professions took a long time ago — adopting a code of ethical standards.

Now from my vantage as a professional in the field of Software Quality Assurance, the types of disclosure that are being discussed are an absolute bare minimum of an ethical code. I always go back to my first meeting with my new supervisor when I was just starting in the QA program at the Defense Contract Administration Services Plant Rep Office (DCASPRO) who said straight out "If it appears to be a conflict of interest, then by definition it IS a conflict of interest."

It is not always easy to do the ethical thing however as we see everyday. Somewhere in my garage, I have a book titled Ethics In Quality which offered some interesting case studies on real life ethical situations where neither answer was particularly satisfying. Even though I am no longer a member of ASQ, I still subscribe to the Code of Ethics. It just seems easier to identify up front to folks any possible areas that may cloud your judgement. When we would have big client meetings at the DCASPRO where the folks from whichever military office were in town for meetings, our local commander instructed us to make sure that we took a cup and turned it over for folks to put in the money for coffee and donuts during the meetings. He knew that we were not going to be "bought" because of "free" donuts or coffee; he just felt that as the In-plant government representatives, we had to be like Caesar's Wife.

I do applaud the effort to establish a Code of Ethics for the economists of the US but it was this from the article that triggered my recognition of the cluelessness:
“It’s good to get this stuff out in the open, but I don’t like the idea of the A.E.A. watching over this,” said Mr. Lucas, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Lucas added: “What disciplines economics, like any science, is whether your work can be replicated. It either stands up or it doesn’t. Your motivations and whatnot are secondary.”


I was a Sociology major my first time through the academic world and I would wager that Sociology has had far more repeatable scientific studies than Economics has had. And I would wager that few Sociologists are so arrogant as to continue to spout the same nonsense after having reality put the lie to the assumptions used to create Economic Policy. Think "Tax Cuts Create Jobs" and "Tax Cuts Lead to Higher Government Revenues."

Maybe Economists might get some credit for ethics if they would stop promoting the ideas of the economists who have been proven wrong in their analyses over the last few decades instead of rewarding them and continuing to listen to them and provide them a forum.

Update: As Dean Baker notes in discussing the Housing crisis

In terms of the fundamentals, the basic story is that we continue to have a record supply of vacant units. It was an astounding failure of the economics profession that almost no one in a prominent position was able to see an enormous and dangerous development like the housing bubble. It shows the incredible lack of controls within the profession that no one seems to have paid any career consequence for this failure.

As economic theory would predict, when there are no negative consequences for poor performance, we see more of it. That appears to be the case as the people who write and talk about the economy still don't seem to have a clue about the housing bubble and its impact on the economy.

I'm just going to let this one paragraph from the NY Times quoting Lanny Davis to speak for itself on the clueslessness exhibited. It seems that economists are not the only ones who are clueless nor are they the only ones ethically challenged:
“My credibility is the only thing I have,” he said in a long, emotional interview on Thursday. “If I defend people in indefensible, corrupt acts, then I lose everything I have, and I’m just another gun for hire.

Maybe Lanny needs to Have Jane Hamsher remind him of a few things again.

And because I can:

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