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Archive for August, 2013

This evening I came across an article on Zero Hedge titled Why Isn’t There A Demonstrably Correct Economic Theory?
Now that’s a good question. Secular thinkers since the time of Aristotle have pondered the problems of economics, and some folks have gotten wise to the fact that they have little in the way of answers.

The post begins,

“My wife has asked me a ‘simple’ question that I cannot answer. After 2000 years, why do we not know which economic theory is correct: Keynesian or Hayek-Friedman? Surely, there is a demonstrably, statistically correct answer.”

Now this is an interesting way of framing the issue. The quote begins with a question asking why we do not know which two economic theories is correct and ends with an expectation that the matter can be decided on the basis of statistical – i.e. empirical – proof.

There are, of course, far more than two schools of thought on matters economic. The mention of Keynesian and Hayek-Friedman economics – Hayek and Friedman are really quite different, Hayek was a rationalist from the Austrian school whereas Friedman was a Chicago school empiricist, they do not represent a single school of thought – is just a small sampling of the universe of secular economic schools of thought. The author himself concedes this by throwing in the name of Karl Marx. That doesn’t complete the list either, but for the sake of space, let’s leave it at that.
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This evening I happened across a quote from Louis Brandeis’ 1928 dissent in the Olmstead case. It was very well written and prompted me to read further. Not being a legal scholar, I’d heard of the Olmstead case, but didn’t know much in the way of detail about it. So I googled it and did a little reading.

It turns out that the case was about a bootlegger Roy Olmstead – these were the days of prohibition – who was arrested and convicted largely on evidence gained by federal agents wiretapping his phones – yes, they were already old pros at this sort of thing as far back as 1920s – and appealed his conviction by claiming that his Fourth and Fifth Amendments rights were violated by the wiretapping.

If you’re wondering how the case turned out, the short answer is that Olmstead lost the case and his conviction was upheld. In writing the dissent, Judge Brandeis proved himself not only a defender of liberty, but also a man possessed of no little insight. Consider this,

“Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the government. Discovery and invention have made it possible for the government, by means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet. Moreover, ‘in the application of a Constitution, our contemplation cannot be only of what has been, but of what may be.’ The progress of science in furnishing the government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire tapping. Ways may someday be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home. Advances in the psychic and related sciences may bring means of exploring unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions.”

Is that insight, or what? After observing the daily, Constitution shredding enormities committed by the NSA, the TSA and the rest of the agency alphabet soup of government agencies, I feel a tip of the cap is due the good judge for his impressive call. If only he were not so right.

 


 

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