Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This is Said All the Time. If It's True Where's the Data?

"Equally troubling has been the effect on national character. Until recently, Americans  were known and admired everywhere for their hopeful determination to assume responsibility for the quality of their own lives; to rely on their own work and initiative; and to improve opportunities for their children to prosper in the future. But over time, Americans have been lured into viewing government – more than themselves, their families, their communities, their faith – as their main source of support; they have been drawn toward depending on the public sector for growing shares of their material and personal well-being. The trend drains individual initiative and personal responsibility. It creates an aversion to risk, sapping the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for growth, innovation, and prosperity. In turn, it subtly and gradually suffocates the creative potential for prosperity."

This is from the Ryan Roadmap.  Hayek* made the same assertion decades ago.  You should be able to prove whether or not this has happened with some survey data and economic statistics.  How many new business start ups (couldn't find anything going past 2000)?  How many American's trust the governmentHow many see themselves in control of their success (see page 15, also section 6 and 7 in general are related, as is section 2 though somewhat less so)?

Is there any evidence whatsoever that there is a correlation between government programs and any of these alleged social changes?  Is there any evidence these social changes have actually happened?

* Of course, when Hayek made a similar assertion in The Road to Serfdom empirical data did not exist to test this.  We now can test whether dependence on government drains individual initiative and personal responsibility and separately if people have come to view government as their main source of support.  Fifteen minutes of searching on Google led me to several pieces of evidence that contradict Ryan's claim.  Of course, this isn't a proper research project and in section 2 of the Pew report one question did support Ryan's contention, however a properly made study could test his contentions with a fair degree of certainty and even this slim amount of evidence should cast the central claims in doubt.  A proper study has probably already been done but my interest in the subject isn't high enough to comb the empirical literature for a study on this.

Perhaps a more important point though is that politics isn't faith, any political contention ultimately is testable, though it may be some time before data exists to test it.  This isn't religious faith where the questions being asked are ultimately unanswerable, at some point every claim made in politics will be tested and either supported or refuted.  Eventually, what was once an untestable statement of political belief becomes a testable research project, at this point belief must give way to evidence, this is essentially what modernity is.  There remain many areas where end results are unknowable, as well as different possible conceptions of society where one conception is not clearly superior to another, and these areas are the proper realm of politics.  Statements of belief that are testable with existing evidence should however be subjected to empirical evidence, and either fade away or continue based upon the results of this testing.

[Edit: Most Importantly: What is the labor force participation rate?


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