Saturday, October 10, 2009

Politics and Science

In a past post I made note of the following quote from an issue of Nature Biotechnology:

"Obama is clearly a science buff, and is really, honestly, into knowing the facts, having them laid out, and then making the best choices that can be mustered," says a policy watcher who was close to the transition team but is outside the federal government. "It is a whole different approach compared to the 'How can we spin this information?' approach of the [Bush administration]. Back to 'honest-to-goodness' curiosity, which is, yes, incredibly refreshing."

Farmers, other business owners, and entrepreneurs, acting in their own self interest often promote the interests of society. Just think of the adoption of biotech crops as an example. This is often referred to as the 'invisible hand' or a 'spontaneous order' by economists. ( or often in the case of agriculture the 'invisible green hand') As a result, market decision makers are the one's that truly embrace science and make the best decisions based on an earnest effort to obtain all of the facts.

Most public choice economists will agree that like farmers, politicians also make decisions in their own self interest, typically maximizing their power and the influence of their ideology. The difference is that farmers have a vested interest in science. Yields and costs depend on it. Corn hybrids either yield or they don't.

Politicians on the other hand have a strong incentive to pick and choose their science. If embracing evidence tends to increase their power and serve to further their political ideology then they take an 'honest to goodness curious' approach. If their policies and ideology flies in the face of decades of evidence, then they shift gears to 'how can we spin this information.'

Public choice economists will hold that this is not a matter of being a republican or democrat, or a conservative or liberal, moderate, or independent. It is inherently a funcion of government. It is naive to think that democracy, or an election that replaces one set of politicians and bureaucrats with another will usher in a new age of enlightenment.

We have seen this most recently with the bailouts and stimulus policies that rejected over 60 years of macroeconomic research. Further examples in agriculture involve the infatuation politicians have with 'fat taxes' on soda, despite little scientific evidence connecting soft drinks with obesity, and the research that indicates that to be effective, these taxes would have to be in the range of 1200%.

Most recently we have heard that despite having any evidence to support their case, our current politicians are wanting to restrict antibiotic use in livestock. It's politics not science.

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