After watching the riveting documentary, Enron, last night, it is more than a little bit disturbing this morning to see this story in the Times on the growing emphasis in American universities toward an ahistorical, apolitical, and amoral approach to learning economics and learning to make economic decisions. Out are the big picture models of Smith, Marx, Friedman, and Keynes, and in is “freakanomics,” a quantitative, data-driven micro approach that foregoes the messy debates involving political, social, or cultural values for the bright line message of the only value left standing, the profit margin.
Does this mean that we are laying the groundwork for an economic future where statistical studies are cherry-picked and manipulated to make “scientific” economic decisions that, otherwise, might never survive the most cursory ethical interrogation? Is this another example of how we have bought in to that most insipid and dangerous reductionism, “the world is flat?” Is that the same bottom-line morality that drove former good guys, Google, into the arms of the Chinese government, with its 30,000 paid goons who will provide the freedom-loving Google Board Members with a growing list of internet sites to censor? Is this not all about the ultimate rationalization for unrestrained greed?
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