Saturday, July 22, 2017

Economists need to be honest and open about the racist origins of the ideas they champion


There is some scientific data, generated by Nazi’s, gained by experimenting on and torturing Jewish victims during the holocaust. Some of this data has been found to be useful to modern scientists, particularly studies on human exposure to freezing temperatures. Some of this data may save lives, but the ethics of using such data is difficult.

From the Jewish Virtual Library:

“Absolute censorship of the Nazi data does not seem proper, especially when the secrets of saving lives may lie solely in its contents. Society must decide on its use by correctly understanding the exact benefits to be gained. When the value of the Nazi data is of great value to humanity, then the morally appropriate policy would be to utilize the data, while explicitly condemning the atrocities. But the data should not be used just with a single disclaimer. To further justify its use, the scientific validity of the experiment must be clear; there must be no other alternative source from which to gain that information, and the capacity to save lives must be evident.

“Once a decision to use the data has been made, experts suggest that it must not be included as ordinary scientific research, just to be cited and placed in a medical journal. I agree with author Robert J. Lifton who suggested that citation of the data must contain a thorough exposé of exactly what tortures and atrocities were committed for that experiment. Citations of the Nazi data must be accompanied with the author's condemnation of the data as a lesson in horror and as a moral aberration in medical science. The author who chooses to use the Nazi data must be prepared to expose the Nazi doctors' immoral experiments as medical evil, never to be repeated.”

I wonder why the same criteria is not applied to economics.

We know that much of what we now understand about property right theory was developed out of American and European slavery, an evil on par with the Holocaust. We know that arguments for education vouchers were developed in Virginia in response to the desegregation of schools under Brown v Board of Education.

Why aren’t economists required to use such economic ideas only with “a thorough exposé of exactly what tortures and atrocities were committed” under slavery or Jim Crow? Why are economists allowed to couched their idea in neutral sounding, race-free verbiage, free of the moral evils that sparked such ideas?

Two thoughts occur:

1. Economics, as routinely practiced, is not a science.

2. Economics, as routinely practiced, is a worldview being defended by those who benefit from it most at great expense and without care for consequences or morality.

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