Thursday, June 06, 2013

Models, predictions and doing the right thing.

The other day I watched an interview on television of two economists, each of whom had made a projection of the costs to the public of the proposed new immigration legislation if passed. One was a conservative and the other a liberal, and their projections differed a great deal one from the other.

There is no way that a joint interview of the two modelers provides the public with the basis for evaluation of the accuracy of the predictions. It is hard enough for an experienced modeler to evaluate the assumptions of such a model, and all but impossible for the "man in the street". Peer review might provide some insight into the quality of the alternative models. Having the modelers defending their own models and criticizing the other's -- all in sound bites -- may have been entertainment but was not responsible reporting.

It occurred to me that the issue might not be the cost. Sometimes the country should do "the right thing" damn the costs. American intervention in World Wars I and II seem to me to exemplify such situations. In both cases there was a terrible cost in lives lost, people wounded,  lives interrupted, and bills to be paid in future years. In both cases it would not have been possible to accurately estimate those costs, and in both cases it was critical to do the right thing for the world.

A friend of mine, Frank, says "rights trump costs"/ If someone has a right to education, then you have to find the money to pay for that education. "Doing the right thing" is not equivalent to "a basic human right", but there is a common idea.

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