Being an economics major, my eye was quickly drawn to the section of our text titled, Deirdre McCloskey and the Rhetoric of Economics. In this section, Herrick points towards Professor McCloskey’s opinions on rhetoric in economics. In summary, McCloskey argues that economists nearly always have persuasive intent behind their arguments. Whether it is the way the argument is framed, or the style of the argument, economists’ arguments reflect individual opinions. After reading this section, I couldn’t agree more.
Nearly everything in economics is theory. Even the most basic tools used to study an economy, supply and demand, is not a law of economics, but a theory. Yes, this is a theory that is rarely questioned, but it is still based off of certain assumptions. The presence of assumptions was one of the most shocking things I learned in introductory classes. Even when the most complex calculus and statistical methods are used, any economic conclusion that is made is entirely dependent on the assumptions that were made to arrive at that conclusion. The fact that there is no black and white in economics allows for the presence of rhetoric in every component.
In one of my most recent classes, the overarching message was that an economic study is never unbiased. Although the class focused on the statistical biases and measurement errors, we also touched upon the natural human biases which cannot be ignored. It is not uncommon to find two articles using data on the same population from the same time period, come to opposite conclusions. This fact shows the rhetoric used in the choice of assumptions and staging of the problem and associated conclusion. The presence of this rhetoric however, is a positive thing in my eyes. Economics is not a science, but a social science. These opposing views from the same data display the preferences of different parties in society. Conflict is a necessary step in order to find solutions which best suite society as a whole. In economics, it is important to acknowledge the biases and use of rhetoric in order to understand the needs of different groups. Once we can better understand these needs, we can come to more efficient solutions. As McCloskey puts it, by using rhetoric in economics, we “move to the rationality of arguing like human beings.”