The last few days, I have attended conferences hosted on the topic of income inequality and mobility. These are topics most people would think are very divisive.
But not to economists.
What I have seen among those social scientists who have been presenting is something magical: viewpoints shared passionately but without a false sense of pride; debate with intelligence; an exchange of ideas without taking things personally when someone disagrees; and consensus building.
When you live in a world of data and alternative interpretations, what you find may surprise you and force you to examine the emotionally induced assumptions you make.
More so than most (even the hard sciences), I have seen that among economists lately. It’s times like this that I enjoy the phrase “reasonable people can disagree” because it implies a few key ideas.
1. That both parties have come to talk. Tolerance means that, although we know someone has to right, we put up with alternative interpretations because the truth takes a while to find and apply to all situations.
2. It also implies that each of the parties has done their homework. They have come with knowledge rather than suppositions, mental work rather than existing in a purely intuitive state.
3. That each party considers themselves and the others at the table to be reasonable, thinking humans. Differences may arise because we have different assumptions, different values, and different data, but that doesn’t make the other party inherently malicious or intellectually dishonest (though some are. It’s just not a good place to start from that assumption)
The point of the conversation is to find to an understanding of what all the data say while allowing for divine levels of cognition and unpunished humanity and ability to err on both participant’s part.
That’s what I’ve been seeing.
So next time you see an economist, thank them for setting a good example for the rest of us.
Sure there are disagreements and debates. But we function with it. It’s time for the political climate to follow.