Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Milton Friedman and Richard Swinburne, coupled

Charles Manski, an economist at Northwestern associated with the prestigious NBER, has a working paper, POLICY ANALYSIS WITH INCREDIBLE CERTITUDE:
It explores an important topic, namely the tendency of policy sciences "to regularly express certitude about the consequences of alternative policy choices." In the paper Manski offers a typology of variants of this problem and offers an alternative. (I must thank one of my regular informants from within economics, Robert Goldfarb (who has done some lovely empirical work on how economists handle empirical data), for calling Manski to my attention!)
Now early in the paper Manski goes after Milton Friedman's famous (1953) methodology paper (known as F1953) and couples him with the philosopher Richard Swinburne (well known in metaphysics and philosophy of religion), and criticizes both of them for their advocacy of the simplest hypothesis at the exclusion of others. (To the best of my knowledge Milton Friedman has never been compared to Richard Swinburne before.)

So far so good. Then Manski writes: "Does use of criteria such as “simplicity” to choose one hypothesis among those consistent with the data promote good policy making? This is the relevant question for policy analysis. To the best of my
knowledge, thinking in philosophy has not addressed it."
Funny that. My recently published paper on the influence of Milton Friedman's methodology on the Chilean Chicago Boys explores precisely this issue:
Rarely have I had a better advocate for the relevancy of my work!
But...is there other work on the relationship between simplicity and policy science?


  1. In chap. 5 of my book, Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, I argue that simplicity is not an indicator of epistemic reliability but rather of future fecundity. So, Manski could look there for a philosophical statement of the role of simplicity in science in general (and I would think it would apply to policy science just as well).

  2. Thank you, Heather. I was wondering if you had written about this.