Research versus advocacy

In an online discussion, someone recently asked me, "Well, if the Singapore government is so interventionist, why do they rank near the top of the Index of Economic Freedom?"

"Do you think that index is research into economic conditions in different countries?" I replied. "It is a piece of propaganda, intended to demonstrate a pre-existing conclusion: more laissez-faire == more prosperity."

A lot of ideologically driven "research" is like that: the "scholars" doing it are not setting out to find out anything. Instead, they want to martial support for what they already believe. Have you ever seen a Marxist professor publish a paper entitled, "In that instance, the capitalists were actually pretty cool"?

I have begun doing a research into distributism, to see if it is a workable economic program. I don't know the answer; I hope it is, but if it turns out it doesn't work in practice, I would much rather find that out than promote something unworkable. An ideologically "hardcore" distributist would, instead, set out to show that distributism works, and would only "find" things supporting distributism. This is why Rothbard would only tolerate "hardcore" libertarians: those were the ones who had completely stopped asking genuine research questions, and whose "research program" had become, "How can I advance anarcho-capitalism?"

5 comments:

  1. Think Singaporean politics could ever work in America? I think they could, but I still wouldn't want that kind of "make the trains run on time" policy.

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  2. Is distributism an economic program at all? I haven't seen it yet. What I've heard about distributism sounds like a set of principles with not much going on than that. I hope to learn that it is a program, since I am entirely sympathetic with those principles. I'm looking forward to your thoughts on the matter.

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    1. Well, do we really want a "program"? (I know I wrote that, but now I am re-thinking it!) I think what we want is a preference for smaller enterprises and widespread property ownership, since we know that these things tend to be more human ways of making a living. But rather than declaring a "program" in advance, I want to *search* for the most viable ways of moving in those directions.

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    2. Yes, that makes sense to me. Looking forward to finding out what you find out.

      One idea I turn over in my head often, which I don't recall anyone bringing up before, is the possibility of a sliding scale for pro-labor laws which would exempt very small businesses from them. So, medium-to-large companies would have to work with the gamut of laws that protect their workers (minimum wage, etc. ... ideally more than what we have in the U.S. now) while very small companies would operate in a libertarian paradise. There would be many details to figure out, which may prove to be insurmountable obstacles. I don't know how you would police the use of "independent contractors" to mask the true size of the company. But, if this could be made to work, I think it might be very salutary. The government would not need to set a hard limit on the size of a firm. Some large companies might still prosper, but only if they can prosper while providing quality jobs.

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    3. Very good, Greg! (Sliding scale labor laws.) I've been thinking along such lines myself.

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