Monday, September 26, 2011

A Key Question

I used to think that the important thing to ask someone whose views you wanted to understand is "why do you believe this?"  It seems like a good start for a discussion, and a way of figuring out whether you're on the same page as someone, what they value, and how they came to their decision.  But, after spending the better part of this year embroiled in near-constant virtually-zero-progress political debates, I can't help but think that I had this one wrong.  I think I figured out a better one.  "What hypothetical evidence would it take to change your mind on this issue?" Try it out on some people.

I like this question because it separates core value issues from higher order policy ideas.  If you can't give a real answer to this question (I can't think of any possible evidence that could convince me that slavery should be legal... for instance), then your policy goal is simply to enact your favored policy (in this case abolition).  However, I can think of lots of ways that, say, my belief in the fiscal stimulus's effectiveness could be overturned.  For example, if someone showed me that job losses or GDP losses had accelerated or stayed the same after its implementation, I would be forced to abandon my belief that the stimulus improved the economy.

If you manage to have a conversation with someone entirely about the ways in which each of your views could (hypothetically of course) be overturned, then you are a lot closer to understanding where they come from, and how you can fix them ;-).

Here's my economic issue list.  Please feel free to comment in your own convinceables.


I could be convinced that Keynesian style stimulus policies are ineffective and/or inappropriate by any of the following:
  1. Clear inverse correlation between austerity measures and economic growth in any large economy undergoing recession/depression Clarification: Clear positive correlation between reduced government expenditures and increased economic growth in a recession/depression economy. (where the expenditure reduction precedes the growth)
  2. Trend information showing accelerated or unchanged rates of job loss and GDP loss in the presence of proportionally large fiscal stimulus in any large economy undergoing recession/depression
I could be convinced that Clinton era marginal tax rates on the wealthy are a major barrier to growth if:
  1. A clear inverse correlation between highest marginal tax rate and economic growth could be shown in historical data for several large economies.
I could be convinced that regulations are the primary obstacle to growth if:
  1. A clear correlation between deregulation and job creation/ profit generation could be demonstrated in several sectors in a large economy
  2. AND, if the effect size of this correlation was large enough to explain 40% or more of the productivity gap in the current recession, or any past recession in a large economy


  1. Wait. Your Keynesian stimulus policy note number 1 makes no sense. Keynesianism says greater austerity in recession WILL lead to decreased economic growth. You said that if there is an inverse correlation between austerity and growth, which Keynesianism proposes... you could be convinced Keynesianism is wrong.

  2. Sorry, that was badly phrased. I was thinking of austerity as a negative number. So in my head I was saying "If you show me that a large decrease in government spending correlates to a large increase in growth", but I could easily be read (as you did) as saying the exact opposite. Will go ahead and clean that up. Don't want to be misunderstood.