Posted by Jay Livingston
Variable labels – not the sort of problem that should excite much debate. Still, it’s important to identify your variables as what they really are. If I’m comparing, say, New Yorkers with Clevelanders, should I call my independent variable “Sophistication” (Gothamites, as we all know, are more sophisticated)? Or should it be “City” (or “City of residence”)? “Sophistication” would be sexier, “City” would more accurate.
Dan Ariely does experiments about cheating. In a recent experiment, he compared East Germans and West Germans and found that East Germans cheated more.
|we found evidence that East Germans who were exposed to socialism cheat more than West Germans who were exposed to capitalism.|
Yes, East Germany was a socialist state. But it was also dominated by another nation (the USSR, which appropriated much of East Germany’s wealth) and had a totalitarian government that ruled by fear and mistrust. For Ariely to write up his results and call his independent variable “Socialism/Captialism,” he must either ignore all those other aspects of East Germany or else assume that they are inherent in socialism.
The title of the paper is worth noting: “The (True) Legacy of Two Really Existing Economic Systems.” You can find it here.)
The paper has been well received among mainstream conservatives (e.g., The Economist), who, rather than looking carefully at the variables, are glad to conflate socialism with totalitarian evils.
Mark Kleiman at the Reality Based Community makes an analogy with Chile under socialist Allende and capitalist Pinochet.
|Imagine that the results had come out the other way: say, showing that Chileans became less honest while Pinochet was having his minions gouge out their opponents’ eyeballs and Milton Friedman was gushing about the “miracle of Chile”? How do you think the paper would read, and what do you think the Economist, Marginal Revolution, and AEI would have had to say about its methods?|