Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Positive Study of Economics

I just started reading my Economics text book for the class I taking this quarter.  So far it is pretty interesting, though nothing ground breaking yet.

One thing that I find very odd is that it spends a not-insignificant portion of a chapter discussing the difference between positive and normative statements.

Why would an economics text go into philosophy in this way?  It almost appears defensive doesn't it?  Or is this just a way to justify the inclusion of opinion into the science?

Anyone have a good theory as to why this is covered in an introductory economics course?

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2 comments:

  1. It is somewhat defensive, but I think there is a good reason for it. Economists often deal with policy questions and take unpopular positions on them. By drawing a distinction between positive and normative statements, economists can say, "We are all entitled to our opinions of what policies are best, but we are not entitled to our opinions of what the effects of policy will be. The effect of a price ceiling is a shortage. We can debate whether a price ceiling, in light of the shortage, is a desirable policy. We cannot debate whether a price ceiling will cause a shortage."

    It's not done to justify the inclusion of opinion into the science. It's used to exclude opinion. Economics is about positive statements only. I think if this were not explicitly stated, students would frequently dismiss the claims of their professors and textbooks as opinions when they are in fact testable claims about reality.

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  2. I got a healthy does of positive v. normative in undergraduate econ. I'm fine with it, if the goal is to get the students to recognize their own policy biases.

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