Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Whole is Not the Mere Sum of the Parts

Yesterday Atrios (a recovering economist) had a good commentary on "Stupid Economists" which focused on the error of the "bottom line," or in this case, the sum of economic data rather than disaggregating results into a more meaningful analysis of policy outcomes:

Suppose "free trade" increases GDP by 100 billion overall. However, 60% of the population actually lose a total of $50 billion income, while the other 40% gain a total of $150 billion. For a majority of the population this is a bad deal. Is it good economic policy? Well, that depends on your social welfare function. The problem we have these days is that the default social welfare function is simply equal to "GDP." Policies which make a majority of the population worse off shouldn't be enacted simply because they get Tom Friedman excited.

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