你可以学经济吗? (2008.03.04) – Kempton’s Comment

Professor Cheung’s 你可以学经济吗? (Can you study Economics?) was the blog entry that got us started discussing and chatting.

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Since I believe I get better in doing something by doing a lot of it. I am going to start the first entry. Ha ha, this is laziness at its best, as I should point out that I mostly “copy and paste” my email to the group and edit a few things to create this entry (an “almost free lunch”).

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Interesting article by Prof. Cheung. Thanks Wallace for linking to it in your email.

I agree with Aries that the “毫无成见” is an important attribute of insightful people’s analysis (including economists’ analysis). The most insightful people have the abilities to see things with fresh eyes when needed. They are not tied down by doctrines. But then, when some people (even very smart people) aged, they do see themselves to have earned the right to be stubborn. (I am thinking of Einstein and his unified field theory.)

Therefore, I so much more admire people like Coase, when he, at age 93, said in his 2003 Coase Centennial Speech (500MB QuickTime file, recommend downloading to disk first),

“New ideas are most likely to come from the young. Who are also the group most likely to recognize the significance of those ideas.”

Coming back to the article, I am not surprise to read but still admire Prof. Cheung’s comment

“这样一来,我对佛老提出的货币政策也打上问号了。”

Now, I want to talk about this section.

“你信奉宗教自由吗?信奉言论自由吗?[…] 然而,每次有人向我提出这些问题时,重新考虑,我的观点或多或少有了改变。你可以批评我的立场不坚定,但我的回应,是经济学问要这样处理才对。”

On some level, I admire the view of not having “absolutes”. Which if you let me stretch it out, it is not so much different from an idea expressed in section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, namely (emphasis added),

“1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

At the same time, I see areas that I am not going to be “rational” and will not not allow transaction costs (or pure economic) analysis to dictate my opinions. (smile)I am not naive enough to say I never put a price on human life or suffering. (E.g. Some people say, “Human life is priceless.” Really? Is one single human life worth $100 billion dollars to save that will suck dry the resources to provide decent medical health care for millions of people?)

In some sense, I am comfortable in being contradictory to remind myself how much the facts behind the Ford Pinto or the McDonald’s hot coffee legal cases (both taught in most MBA ethics classes) really ticked me the wrong way. I think too much economics or cost-benefit analysis went into the heads of the managers of these corporations. 😦

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