The grasshopper wins, and Greg Mankiw’s grandmother..

Now that Sotomayor has a ton of money coming in, in addition to a well-paying job and pension for life, that would almost seem to validate Sotomayor’s foolish, foolish decision to enjoy herself in middle age rather than sock hundreds of thousands of dollars into …

Now that Sotomayor has a ton of money coming in, in addition to a well-paying job and pension for life, that would almost seem to validate Sotomayor’s foolish, foolish decision to enjoy herself in middle age rather than sock hundreds of thousands of dollars into a retirement account she likely would never touch during her lifetime.

One interesting thing about this example is that Mankiw apparently holds within himself a descriptive and normative view of economics. Descriptively, he models people as “spenders” or “savers.” But, normatively, he seems to attribute higher values to the “savers.” (He also seems to be confused about the relation between saving to intertemporal preference (see my long paragraph here), at least in Sotomayor’s case, but that’s another story.)

This is fine—there’s no reason that Mankiw shouldn’t express his views. I personally don’t get it (except as a comment on his grandmother’s Great-Depression-induced attitudes) but the way Mankiw wrote his post, it really does seem that he sees it as a negative comment on the judge that she’s not saving her money for a tomorrow that will never come.

It’s not just econ

This tension is hardly unique to economics. Every social science has its descriptive and moral component. For example, my colleagues and I have descriptively studied partisan bias of electoral systems—but the very word “bias” implies a perspective that it’s a bad thing. When psychologists study schizophrenia, it is typically with the ultimate goal to prevent and treat it. When sociologists study networks, I think there is a general view that you don’t want to be the Unabomber, that it is better to establish enduring human connections with friends. And so on…

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