Fifty shades of Dave (davywavy) wrote,
Fifty shades of Dave

[Economics] Ideologically motivated.

Every year or so I do a long post about economics, outlining where I think we are and where we're going. However, I've not got much to say about the subject at the moment, as my position hasn't changed much since the post I did last year - we're in the rocky foothills of the biggest sustained period of economic growth in human history, there will be occasional recessions because there are always recessions, and those of you sitting in you Ozark compound counting your gold and guns dreaming of how the next big crash will prove you right have a pretty long wait ahead of you.

Instead of running through that again, this morning I got to thinking about a political phrase which I'm finding really annoying at the moment. It's 'ideologically motivated'. It's the latest in a succession of meaningless phrases - like 'fair' with which people use in an attempt to demonstrate why their motivations are pure and lovely and so forth whilst those of their opponents are just evil. Because that's what motivates people who disagree with you, you see.

I got to thinking about it after reading this article. Now, I don't know much - at all - about Australian politics, so the content really meant little enough to me. What jumped out, though, was that it's written by someone claiming to be an economist who accuses his opponents of being - yup, you guessed - 'ideologically motivated'.
It's a miserable phrase. What it basically says is "My opponents aren't thinking about economics or maths or anything like that. They're motivated only by what they believe. I, on the other hand, have only the wondrous mathematical world of perfection in mind, and so am above their base mortal considerations", and that's the point when my knuckles start itching and I get to wanting to punch them in the face.

The thing is, economics isn't the study of money like most people think it is. Or only in the broadest sense. What economics is the study of is the allocation of limited resources, how that allocation influence human behaviour, and the consequences of that behaviour. And it's perfectly possible to believe, for legitimate reasons, that some outcomes are more desirable than others.
As a friend of mine once put it "There's no such thing as left or right wing economics. That's like saying there's left or right wing gravity. There's just economics'.

To illustrate what I mean using gravity;

"If elected, my government would invest heavily in parachutes."
"Ha! If elected, my government would allocate funds to crash helmets!"
"Your ideologically motivated obsession with crash helmets just proves you want poor people to fall to their deaths!"
"Rubbish. Your neoliberal obsession with parachutes demonstrates you hate poor people and want them to be hit on the head with apples!"

And so on.

So when I see people claiming to be talking about economics whilst using terms like fairness, or ideologically motivated, or whatever, it tells me one important thing. They say they're talking about economics, but they're actually talking about politics. And what your politics are is how desirable you feel certain outcomes to be and whether you personally feel that desirability outweighs the consequences of allocating resources to those actions. It's not humanly possible to avoid an ideology, and so to criticise others for doing something you can't avoid yourself is like one of those American Preacher getting angry about people having sex getting caught in a motel room with Branddie and Krystal.

Take, for example, rent controls. There's not many things economist broadly agree on, but rent controls driving down the quality and availability of housing stock is one of them. However, if you think reducing landlord revenues is a desirable thing then the commensurate consequences to renters might be acceptable to you.

What 'ideologically motivated', as a phrase, isn't, is a worthwhile thing to say in economic debate. What it is is a badge proclaiming an erroneous intellectual and moral superiority, and should you hear someone use it, chances are you'll save yourself a lot of time by ignoring what they say.
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