Monday, September 19, 2011

Economics of Lying

Economics seems to foster or at least support an unusually bald-faced style of lying. Here is Steve Landsburg, again:

One thing I like about the study of economics is that it fosters compassion. When part of your job is to predict human behavior, you quickly learn the value of understanding other people’s problems. When the other part of your job is ferreting out the unseen global consequences of our choices, you’ve taken the first step toward caring about those consequences.

For example: Suppose a guy with no health insurance and no assets shows up at a hospital emergency room with an urgent life-threatening condition. Should you let him die? Ordinary compassion says no. The heightened compassion of the economist says, at the very least, maybe.

First, a policy of providing emergency health care to everyone is pretty much the same thing as a policy of providing emergency health insurance to everyone. It was specified here that this was a guy who didn’t want health insurance.

Landsburg's emphasis. Landsburg specified that the guy in question had no assets, not that he didn't want health insurance. Let's be clear - a large fraction of people who show up in emergency rooms with no assets or insurance can't afford insurance, or aren't eligible to buy insurance - which is nearly opposite to not wanting insurance.

So does economics foster facile lying - calling anti-compassion compassion, and calling "can't get" the same as "doesn't want"? I don't think so, but a certain flavor of it attracts those facile liars like flies to s***.