Department of “Duh”
| Peter Klein |
It must be acknowledged, however, that a researcher’s political ideology or vested interest in a particular theory can still enter even ostensibly descriptive analysis by the data set chosen for the research; the mathematical transformations of raw data and the exclusion of so-called outlier data; the specific form of the mathematical equations posited for estimation; the estimation method used; the number of retrials in estimation to get what strikes the researcher as “plausible” results, and the manner in which final research findings are presented.
That’s Uwe Reinhardt, writing a NY Times op-ed that could have been titled “A Mainstream Economist Tries to Come to Grips with Kaldor-Hicks Efficiency.” It’s actually a pretty thoughtful and informative discussion that exposes some of the fatal — to my mind, anyway — flaws of the Kaldor-Hicks concept. But Reinhardt implies, unfortunately, that virtually every economist accepts the Kaldor-Hicks principle as a normative standard. There is actually a fair amount of dissent, not only from Austrians but also from people like Jon Elster and John Roemer. As Gary Lawson notes in an excellent survey of welfare economics concepts, the Kaldor-Hicks criterion, in practice, is
as useless as Pareto superiority. Kaldor-Hicks efficiency purchases its coherence by requiring that compensation be hypothetically possible in such a way as to guarantee that each person, by her own standards, does not come away a loser, just as strict Paretianism requires that each person judge herself to be as well off or better off than before. All it takes to make the universe of Kaldor-Hicks-efficient transactions an empty set is one person who sincerely cannot be bought-that is, a person who values autonomy, either his own or that of others, so highly that no amount of after-the-fact compensation could possibly leave him as well off as he would have been had the loss never been inflicted. (without consent) in the first place. In a large population, no legal rule [or other reallocation of resources] will ever satisfy the Kaldor-Hicks efficiency criterion.