Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mathematics, Economics -- and Bias

Dani Rodrik invites us to:
call me naive, but I also think that Mugabe would not have pursued his policies for this long if he had a better grasp of debt dynamics.

The idea that Mugabe's problem is a lack of mathematical sophistication does, indeed, strike me as naive, and makes me very slightly less inclined to take Rodrik seriously.

In fact, I take Mugabe to be merely an extreme case of the general dictum that the problem with government is that it attracts people who think they should be in charge, including and especially people who love power; this is not a left-vs-right problem, it's why I tend to towards a (leftish, bleeding-heart, centrist) libertarianism (sometimes almost reaching it) on tests of such things, as I've noted before. The fact that Rodrik's mental model of Mugabe pops out with "insufficient math, that's his trouble!" is quite seriously a reason to question Rodrik's mental-model formation.

Update: Tyler Cowen remarks that

By writing " me naive" Rodrik is showing a level of self-awareness which seems to be signaling he is not naive.
I would rather say that he is showing a level of critic-awareness which signals that he knows some will label this as "naive", but he is not going to answer them -- he just feels that Mugabe's problem is insufficient math. Rodrik is in general somebody I can't ignore, but (in my model of the world) his credibility is very slightly lower than it was. And this, of course, interests no one but me, but it does interest the long-ago author of Equations, Models, and Programs: A Mathematical Introduction to Computer Science I feel as if I ought to be maximally sympathetic to the math-modeling-in-all-things view...

Then again, maybe not.

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