Sheila Dow over at INET:
Gains from trade is another value-laden topic which loomed large in the US presidential debate. Mainstream theory concludes that more trade is always beneficial in aggregate, but it does so on the assumption that the DSGE structure remains unchanged, i.e. that there have not been irreversible changes in structures, behaviour and the exercise of power. What gained most attention in political debate was the other more obviously value-laden mainstream assumption, that aggregate gains benefit society even if the winners don’t compensate the losers. There is no escaping the fact that economics continues to be a moral science. Economists therefore have a moral responsibility to be transparent about the value judgements embodied in their theories, and to be prepared to debate them. This would address any suspicion that economists were serving vested interests. But there is a more profound moral responsibility which arises from the nature of economic knowledge itself. Experience has shown that predictive success is an inadequate basis for appraising theories, such that different bodies of theory using different methodological approaches co-exist (even if most are discouraged by purveyors of the mainstream). This is particularly the case for a field whose subject matter is a complex, evolving, open system. Knowledge about the economy is uncertain, severely limiting the scope for classical logic. Drawing instead on a range of lines of reasoning and types of evidence, what is required of the economist is reasonable judgement. As Marcuzzo (2010: 45) points out, reasonableness is a moral quality which addresses the collective good rather than the personal benefit sought by individual rationality.
It is therefore immoral not only to conceal value judgements, but also to present as scientific truth a conclusion which is approach-specific. It is incumbent on all economists to be prepared to explain their approach and defend it relative to others. Economists, as experts, know better than those who do not make an in-depth study of the economy. But no one economist can claim to “know best” without imposing her own value judgments on society and without arguing why her approach to economic knowledge is better than alternatives.
For experts to impose value judgments on society is also undemocratic.