Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"I always wonder how the 'true economist' should react."

So muses Tyler Cowen, about that French dude -- who allegedly raped a hotel maid -- as Mr. Gillette points out.  Mr. Gillette really should have graced us with a block quote from Mr. Cowen's priceless post:
Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been arrested, taken off a plane to Paris, and accused of a shocking crime.  When I hear of this kind of story, I always wonder how the “true economist” should react.  After all, DSK had a very strong incentive not to commit the crime, including his desire to run for further office in France, not to mention his high IMF salary and strong network of international connections.  So much to lose. 
Should the “real economist” conclude that DSK is less likely to be guilty than others will think?
The supposition, as I understand it, is that an "economist" should (perhaps) conclude that any rich person is less likely to have committed a (non-financial?) crime than "others will think."  Apparently, this is because "others" will not understand that privileged folks like DSK will have less "incentive" to commit crimes of passion (madness?) than regular old poor folks.

This is all very absurd, of course.  The sin is clear: reductionism with a multiplier of monomania.  These days, most educated people become well versed in a particular school of thinking.  For example, you and I, Mr. Gillette, were trained in "legal reasoning."  As a result, we subconsciously (or consciously) apply that kind of reasoning in all facets of our life -- just ask my wife.  It turns out, however, that legal reasoning has its limits.

Just ask my wife.

My broader point is that we all tend to take our area of expertise and generalize it.  We try to solve all the world's problems with the tools we have, even when our best tool happens to be one of those cheap Swiss-army knives that comes with only a 3-inch blade , a useless 4-centimeter "saw," and a ... toothpick?

Mr. Cowen's blog post is a tour de force of provincial thinking -- the idea that "because this thinking can solve a certain problem, it can solve ANY problem!"  And when I say "tour de force," I mean "reductio ad absurdum."  That's a kind of logical argument.  And, as a philosophy major who concentrated in logic, I can assure you that logic solves all problems.

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