Are Economics Textbooks Value-Neutral

  • Doc File 131.00KByte



Are Economics Textbooks Value-Free?

If Not, What Values Do They Propagate?

Motto: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws, or crafts its advanced treaties, if I can write its economic textbooks”

Paul A. Samuelson

Author: Michal Lehuta

Date: January 1, 2007

Course: Advanced Qualitative Methods

Instructors: Prof. Dr. Margrit Schreier, Dipl.-Psych. Özen Odag

1 Introduction and Relevance

Economics is the “dismal” science, for it teaches about scarcity, trade-offs, and all other mean things in life. The discipline has also a dismal reputation. From multiple-handed economists,[1] through economists lobbying for a particular industry or political party, it follows that many of our basic economic “postulates, theorems, and methodologies are rife with implicit value judgments” (Block 1975). Let us take the desirable amount of redistribution in the society as an example. Any such claim is necessarily based on a non-scientific interpersonal utility comparison between the taxed and the beneficiaries of such system, which leads any claim on such redistribution impossible to prove right nor wrong. Against this development sprang up a school of economics advocating the absence of such value judgments in the science.

1.1 Value-neutrality in theory

Value neutrality is propagated by the so-called Austrian School of economics (or just “the Austrians”) as the only truly scientific approach to social sciences. Whenever a value judgment (antonym of value-freedom) is uttered in social-scientific reasoning, one is not able to judge this proposition for its’ truth value, for it is impossible to argue about value judgments as it is impossible to inter-subjectively compare utilities (de gustibus non est disputandum; Hoppe 1995).

Hence, we can attach a truth value of zero (negative/not true) or one (positive/true) to the proposition: “the sky is blue” (in the sense that we are able to measure the color frequencies of light coming to us from “the sky”), but not to the proposition “the sky is beautiful” or “this is what the sky should look like”. Economic propositions have to be approached in the same manner, the Austrians would argue. “An increase in minimum wage increases unemployment” would be a value-free statement about an economic relationship (a positive statement). “The government should ensure a full level of employment” would be a value-laden statement (normative proposition), for it is a political demand requiring the usage of taxpayers money.

Value neutrality was thought of already by Max Weber (Wertfreiheit in German; Ambrus 2001). Weber argued that from positive statements, no normative claims can be derived (Aus Seins-Aussagen folgen keine Sollens-Aussagen), and thus pave the way for purposive means-ends rationality. The debate over positivism would later on include figures such as Theodor W. Adorno or Karl R. Popper, who moved the debate away from the dichotomy of value-free and value-laden to a theory of a two-way process of facts constituted by values and values by facts (including Ambrus 2001).

1.2 My research question and the research so far

I decided to code the most used economics textbooks for their value-content, that is to determine the value meaning of the text (as the prime goal of qualitative enquiry) in the wide context of political economy discourse analysis. My research method will therefore be coding, with purposive sampling strategy. This way I will stick to aiming with my research at a “narrow” conclusions pertaining solely to my texts; using whole setting of political economy discourse analysis only in developing my broader coding frame.

Prior research on the topic has been rather theoretical. Ritenour (2005) compared Paul A. Samuelson’s extremely popular textbook (2005; first edition in 1948) with that of Murray N. Rothbard (2004; first edition in 1962), criticizing Samuelson for deceptive inductive, Keynesian, and compromising methodology. Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State is praised for its axiomatic and deductive structure which, according to Ritenour, constitutes an irrefutable and value-free truth. Heath (1994), in the post-modern tradition, tries to disprove this common analogy between distinctions of positive vs. normative and facts vs. values.

This might lead one to the conclusion that value freedom is rather a myth, and hence that there can hardly be a value-free social-scientific text. This would also mean that any economic textbook to a certain degree (possibly often implicitly) necessarily propagates certain values. This conviction is based also on the inseparability of pure rationality from emotions derived in neuroscience (Damasio 2000). In a sense, any attempt to perform a pure positive economic analysis (as opposed to overly value-laden normative analysis) can constitute a covert value-judgment in the way issues are selected (agenda-setting; omission of counter-arguments) or portrayed (e.g., implicitly as a problem to be solved or a goal to be pursued by the society). In coding the chapters on economic growth searching for value-ladenness, therefore, I focused on what is economic growth portrayed like, what can it achieve or what can it hamper, which issues are discussed and which not. Coding for value-ladenness by omission, although a very difficult issue in methodological terms, requires the researcher to be well acquainted with all normative issues in economics. I consider myself to be one of these people. From a methodological point of view, it would be interesting to enquire into the ways that certain statements propagate certain value(-s). This analysis is only secondary, however, when considering my major aim with this paper, which is identifying the values themselves (“content”), not the necessarily the ways with which they are tied to the analyzed text (“form”).

In the actual analysis, I will cite words or related group of words (as the units of coding), which are to my opinion overtly or covertly value-laden. Afterwards, I will identify the values propagated and classify the instances into my three major political philosophies. These will be Rawlsianism, Utilitarianism, and Libertarianism. The analysis, as partly portrayed already above, goes against the economics mainstream of the after-war modernist tradition. For example, when Samuelson and Nordhaus (2001; original from 1948) define that positive economics describes:

“the facts and the behavior of the economy. What are the causes of poverty in the United States? What will be the effect of higher cigarette taxes on smokers? How has the economic performance of socialist countries compared with that of capitalist countries?”

it is implicit in these questions that 1) poverty is a problem to deal with, and a minimal living standard is a “societal” value, 2) we are possibly able to compare the loss of utility to smokers due to higher taxes on cigarettes with the gains, e.g., in the savings of the health service provision due to less lung cancer patients, and thus increase the aggregate welfare, and 3) that “performance”, usually simplified in the growth in real output, is something to strive for (even in the post-Cold War world of no bipolar competition). Hereby, ladenness with both the implicit value judgments via ‘agenda-setting’ as well as by ‘portraying a problem/goal’ become visible.

The whole analysis of mine springs from the assumption stipulated in Heath (1994: 1060) that “the “validity” of value judgments is ultimately a matter of subjective opinion (or even faith) and as such cannot be tested in any objective sense”. Therefore, economics textbooks should, at least in theory, be value-free if expected to be regarded as books of science rather than that of propaganda. Moreover, if “both the layman’s and the practitioner’s knowledge of science is based on textbooks and a few other types of literature derived from them.” (Kuhn 1970: 137), then the proper analysis of value-judgments in textbooks is of great importance for both explaining mass opinions as well as deconstructing public (political) discourses.

2 Methods Used

2.1 Sampling Strategy

In my research, a purposive and partly convenience sampling strategy is chosen. For practical purposes, I decided for the two most used college textbooks on economics in English language available. It proved to be difficult to identify these two textbooks, however, even after an extensive internet search for suitable statistics. After this, I enquired with my puzzle at Prof. Gregory N. Mankiw of Harvard, an author or what I suspected was one of the most used textbooks (according to my discussions with my professors). He replied to my e-mail saying that his and McConnell and Brue’s texts are the two most sold according to his information from the publishers. This was decisive for me, so I decided to use these two books. My two texts of enquiry thus are:

Mankiw, Gregory N. 2001. “Production and Growth”, in: Principles of Economics, 2nd ed, Forth Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, pp. 241-263.

McConnell, Campbell R. and Stanley L. Brue. 2001. “Economic Growth”, in: Macroeconomics, 15th ed, Glencoe: McGraw-Hill. Available at: .

I decided to analyze respective chapters on economic growth, not the whole textbooks, for the reasons of the extent this research would entail. Chapters on growth were chosen also because one of the two, namely McConnell & Brue’s, is available online free for download as a sample chapter. Secondly, the political economy discourse over economic growth involves all utilitarian, libertarian, as well as Rawlsian political-philosophic concerns, full of value judgments and morality. Conversely, it would be hard to imagine many ethical issues arising in chapters on measuring the gross domestic product or inflation. To get hold of the chapters, I downloaded and printed out the free one, and copied Mankiw’s chapter from his textbook in the International University Bremen’s library.[2]

2.2 The Coding Frame, Data Collection

Having the two chapters of the two most-used economics textbooks, I coded their content to find out what, if any, value-laden arguments they contain. In my analysis, by content I do not mean the textbook information itself, but rather the data obtained on the level of values (selective coding). For this reason, the primary method will include coding the text (sentences/paragraphs) according to two dimensions. This means my units of coding will be sentences or groups of sentences that develop one idea/argument (idea units). First, I will make a distinction between value-free and value-laden text. Value-free will be in my analysis any text with no identifiable value attached to it. The second dimension, of value-laden passages, will try to distinguish the kind of values the text publicizes. Here, I will rely on the three political-philosophy theories, which I described in my paper in the last year’s course on “Normative Theories of International Order”: that is, Rawlsianism, Utilitarianism, and Libertarianism (Lehuta 2006). In addition, a third dimension is thinkable – that of overt and covert propagation. An overt propagation would constitute any direct normative statement on “what should be”. A covert value-ladenness can be, for example, the selection of arguments (agenda setting, e.g. not giving proper weight to counter-arguments). I suspect, however, that mostly only this the latter would be present in the text. I summarize my coding frame in the figure below:

Bit of Text Value-free (VF)

Value-laden (VL) - six possibilities:

| |Rawlsian |Utilitarian |Libertarian |

| |value |value |value |

|Overtly value-laden |OR |OU |OL |

|Covertly value-laden|CR |CU |CL |

Examples of values within the classification (labels in italics)[3]

Core Rawlsian Values

– Equality (equity), when it serves social “justice” of equal opportunities

– Redistribution (helping the “least favored”)

– Social protection

– Progressive taxation

– Market regulation (for a non-productivity purpose)

Core Utilitarian Values

– Aggregate utility maximization (“greatest happiness of the greatest number”), even at the costs of some losing their welfare

– National welfare

– GDP growth

– Wealth redistribution (only in a particular understanding of falling marginal utility of income)

– Economic freedom (as a means for utility maximization)

– Market regulation (for a productivity-boosting purpose)

Core Libertarian Values

– Liberty - freedom to act in any way except of that which may inflict upon the same right of others

– Private property, individual welfare

– Individual choice (de gustibus non est disputandum), self-expression

– Merit (on the basis of market exchange)

– Pareto improvement

– Minimal state intervention, low taxation, voluntary redistribution

– Economic freedom (for its own sake; as opposed to market regulation)

The classification of statements into various value-categories, if applicable, was to follow a rather self-understanding logic and hence needed not necessarily be explicated, to my opinion, in this coding frame. “Pareto improvement” is coded, for instance, by definition of the term, when an aggregate welfare maximization is sought that does not involve any welfare losses to any single actor (Black 2003). During the actual coding, however, the identification of values and their place in a certain political philosophy was done rather inductively. Gender equality value, for instance, sprang up “from the blue sky” (without me having it under any political philosophies), and I had to post hoc classify this value as belonging to the Rawlsian political categories falling under the ‘equality of opportunities’. Moreover, it is important to mention a method of the possibility of classifying a certain bunch of text into more than just one category, if it is possible to understand it as implicitly signifying values of two or more political philosophies.

Coding or Content Analysis?

Deciding whether to use coding or more procedurally intricate content analysis, I used an approach combining the two. I did not opt for exactly defining my categories (values), which would be a characteristic of coding (induction of categories from the text), for there are multitudes of ways a statement can be implicitly stressing one or the other value. This means that the coding frame was not finalized before carrying out the main part of the analysis. Another distinguishing feature of coding contained in my research was that on a single unit of meaning, more than one code/category could be assigned to the same chunk of text. These instances were counted only once in case the different value categories pertained to only one political philosophy; they are counted twice if they present values of two different philosophies. On the other hand, I was classifying my bits of text into values fitting in the three major political philosophies (deductively), as well as defined my units of coding; both being traits of content analysis. Re-coding the text aiming at an intracoder reliability was also a feature of content analysis rather than coding.

2.4 Secondary Methods, Data Analysis

A secondary method used to analyze qualitative type of data I will acquire will include comparing the two textbooks, that is, Mankiw and McConnell’s chapters on production and economic growth. A frequency matrix of the attached codes to each chapter will be constructed. When quantitatively comparing the results, one has to be weary however also of the frequency of certain labels relative to the overall length of the particular text in order to arrive at conclusions about the “density” of value-laden statements.

3 Actual Coding

Let me now turn to the actual codes attached to each text and its parts by diving them into subchapters (titles as in textbooks), and citing the value-laden passages.

3.1 McConnell & Brue (2001: 308-323)

{Introduction, p. 308}

– stressing aggregate utility

“impressive growth” [meaning growth in GDP], “increased material abundance and lifted the standard of living”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility value (Utilitarianism; twice)

{Ingredients of Growth, pp. 308-309}

– stressing aggregate utility

“ability of the economy to expand”, “households, businesses, and government must purchase the economy’s expanding output”, “resources will be fully employed”, “economic efficiency as well as full employment”, “economy must use its resources in the least costly way […] that maximizes peoples well-being”, “achieving maximum possible growth”, “Unemployment caused by insufficient total spending”

– stressing equity

“economic efficiency as well as full employment”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility value (Utilitarianism; seven times), and equity value (Rawlsianism; once)

{Production Possibilities Analysis, pp. 309-312}

– stressing aggregate utility

“maximum combinations of products an economy can produce”, “improvement in any of the supply factors […]”, “maximum dollar contribution to total output”, “Society does not want new labor-force entrants to be unemployed. Nor does it want pediatricians working as plumbers or pediatricians producing services for which marginal costs exceed marginal benefits”, “competitive market system tends to drive the economy toward productive and allocative efficiency”, “economy has not realized its potential for economic growth”, “Society can increase its real output and income in two fundamental ways”, “rightward shift of the economy’s long-run aggregate supply curve […] outcome of these shifts has been economic growth, shown as the increase in real output”, “expansion of available real output from”, “Society does not want new labor-force entrants to be unemployed. Nor does it want pediatricians working as plumbers or pediatricians producing services for which marginal costs exceed marginal benefits” “expansion of available real output”, “increases in AD and AS […] have increased real output” (2x)

– stressing individual choice

“Society does not want new labor-force entrants to be unemployed. Nor does it want pediatricians working as plumbers or pediatricians producing services for which marginal costs exceed marginal benefits”

– stressing market regulation (for a non-productivity purpose)

“length of the average workweek is governed by legal and institutional considerations and by collective bargaining”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility value (Utilitarianism; thirteen times), individual choice (Libertarianism; once), and market regulation (for a non-productivity purpose) value (Rawlsianism; once)

{U.S. Economic Growth Rates, p. 312}

– stressing national welfare

“[growth rates] higher than those in most other advanced industrial nations”

– stressing aggregate utility

“growth continued strong in […]”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing national welfare and aggregate utility value (Utilitarianism; twice)

{Accounting for Growth, pp. 312-316}

– stressing aggregate utility

“Economic Growth Rates Matter!”, “the importance of productivity growth to economic growth calls for […]”, “resources to be combined in improved ways that increase output”, “a nation acquires more capital by […]”, “able to use […] methods of manufacturing and delivery that increase productivity”, “social philosophy has embraced material advance as an attainable and desirable economic goal”

– stressing national welfare

“U.S. students in science and mathematics do not do as well as student in many other nations”, “on-the job training programs […] in several European nations are superior to those in the United States”, “The test performance of U.S. eight-grade students did not rank favorably with that of eight-graders in several other nations […]”

– stressing equality/equity

“education has become accessible to more people in the United States during the recent past”, “discrimination […] has deterred some […] from entering high-productivity jobs”

– stressing merit

“discrimination […] has deterred some […] from entering high-productivity jobs”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing national welfare and aggregate utility value (Utilitarianism; nine times), equality/equity (Rawlsianism; twice), and merit (Libertarianism; once)

{The Productivity Acceleration, pp. 316-320}

– stressing aggregate utility

“increase in productivity growth is important because real output, real income, and real wages are linked to labor productivity”, “productivity growth therefore is its main route for increasing its [economy’s] standard of living”, “network effect magnify the value of output well beyond the costs of inputs”, “That is, the economy would achieve a higher rate of economic growth”, “We should be pleased with the exceptional performance of the economy between […] These were remarkable times for the U.S. economy”, “The prospects for a more rapid long-run trend of productivity growth are good”

– stressing national welfare

“growth competitiveness index […] to measure the ability of a country to achieve economic growth over time. Here is the latest top 10 list:”

– stressing economic freedom (as a means for utility maximization)

“trade liberalization […] have heightened competition internationally”

– stressing individual choice

“increase in productivity growth is important because real output, real income, and real wages are linked to labor productivity”, “your productivity – is your real wage”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing national welfare, aggregate utility, and economic freedom (as a means for utility maximization) value (Utilitarianism; eight times), and individual choice (Libertarianism; twice)

{Is Growth Desirable and Sustainable?, pp. 320-321}

The Antigrowth View

– stressing (possibly future) aggregate utility

“industrialization and growth result in pollution, global warming, ozone depletion, and other environmental problems”, “threats to the ecological system”, “sustainability problem”

– stressing equity

“[growth no solution to] sociological problems such as poverty, homelessness, and discrimination”, “problem of distribution” “to redistribute wealth and income”, “producing more and employing less”

– stressing social protection

“risk of being fired because of technology advancement”, “frantic paces on jobs” (high growth = high stress)

– stressing individual choice

[growth does not necessarily give us] “the good life”

In Defense of Economic Growth

– stressing aggregate utility

“path to the greater material abundance and higher living standards desired by the vast majority of people”, “enables the society to improve the nation’s […]”

– stressing individual choice

“more education, recreation, and travel, more medical care, closer communications, more skilled […] services, […] more time and resources devoted to spiritual growth and human development”

– stressing the improvement of the conditions of the least favored

“greater access for the disabled”, “realistic way to reduce poverty”, “no-growth policy among industrial nations might severely limit growth in poor nations”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing individual choice (Libertarianism; twice), improvement of the conditions of the least favored, equity, and social protection (Rawlsianism; seven times), and aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; five times)

{Women and Economic Growth, pp. 322-323}

– stressing aggregate utility

“increase in labor-force participation of women […] greatly contributed to U.S. economic growth”

– stressing merit

“women […] better educated and professionally trained. As a result, they can earn higher wages.”

– stressing gender equality

“easier for women to combine labor market employment with child-rearing and household activities”, “antidiscrimination laws […] reduced barriers [… to] taking traditional male jobs” “to protect themselves against the financial difficulties of potential divorce” (but also the devotion of a whole page to the issue)

– stressing individual choice

“women […] find personal fulfillment in jobs, careers, and earnings”, “availability of birth control”, “higher “price” associated with children has reduced the “quantity” of children demanded”, “to protect themselves against the financial difficulties of potential divorce”, “allowed them to abandon unfulfilling marriages”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing individual choice and merit (Libertarianism; six times together), gender equality (Rawlsianism; four times), and aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; once)

{Summary, p. 322-323}

– stressing national welfare

“raises nation’s standard of living”, “outward shift of a nation’s production possibilities curve”,

– stressing aggregate utility

“growth of labor productivity underlies an economy’s growth of real wages and its standard of living”, “environmental degradation”, “rising standards of living nearly universally desired by people”

– stressing individual choice

“growth of labor productivity underlies an economy’s growth of real wages and its standard of living”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing individual choice (Libertarianism; once), and aggregate utility and national welfare (Utilitarianism; four times)

3.1.1 Summary of coding of the McConnell & Brue’s chapter (frequency table):

|Political Philosophy – Times Stressed |Core Value |Number of Times Stressed |

|Rawlsianism - 17 |Equality/equity |11 |

| |Helping the least favored |3 |

| |Social protection |2 |

| |Market regulation |1 |

|Libertarianism - 13 |Liberty, individual choice |11 |

| |Property rights |0 |

| |Economic freedom |0 |

| |Merit |2 |

|Utilitarianism - 51 |Aggregate utility |42 |

| |National welfare |6 |

| |Economic freedom as means |1 |

McConnell’s & Brue’s chapter, seventeen pages long, contains eighty-one value-laden statements, of which almost two thirds were passages stressing Utilitarian values. Second most frequently stressed philosophy was Rawlsianism with seventeen occurrences; Libertarianism scored thirteen value-laden statements.

3.2 Mankiw (2001: 241-263)

[Introduction, pp. 241-242]

– stressing individual choice as well as aggregate utility

“person in a rich country […] has an income ten times as high as […], reflected in large differences in the quality of life”, “average income today is about eight times as high as average income a century ago”, “What policies should the poor countries pursue to promote more rapid growth”, “level of real GDP is a good gauge of economic prosperity”, “factors that determine a nation’s productivity”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing individual choice (Libertarianism; five times), and aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; five times)

{Economic Growth Around The World, pp. 242-244}

– stressing individual choice

“typical citizen of China in 1997 had about as much real income as the typical American in 1870”

– stressing aggregate utility

“if one country grows 1 percent while another grows at 3 […] a big difference”, “Why do some countries zoom ahead while others lag behind?”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing individual choice (Libertarianism; once), and aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; once)

{Productivity: Its Role And Determinants, pp. 244-249}

– stressing aggregate utility

“Why productivity is so important”, “living standard is tied to […] productive ability”, “the key role of productivity in determining living standards is as true for nations as […]”, “human capital raises a nation’s ability to produce goods and services”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; four times)

{Case Study: Are Natural Resources A Limit To Growth?, p. 248}

– stressing aggregate utility

“are all these efforts enough to permit continued economic growth?”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; once)

{Economic Growth And Public Policy, pp. 249-259}

– stressing aggregate utility

“What can government policy do to raise productivity and living standards”, “another way in which policymakers can foster economic growth is by […]”, “to achieve this outcome, the economy has to […]”, “threat of revolution can act to depress a nation’s standard of living”, “country that eliminates trade restrictions will, therefore, experience the same kind of economic growth what would occur after a major technological advance”

– stressing property rights and economic freedom

“removing restrictions that governments have imposed on foreign ownership of domestic capital”, “an important prerequisite for […] to work is an economy-wide respect for property rights”, “lack of property rights can be a major problem”, “In most extreme cases, the government not only fails to enforce property rights but actually infringes upon them”

– stressing (gender) equality

“policies that foster equal treatment of women are one way for less developed economies to reduce the rate of population growth”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; five times), property rights and economic freedom (Libertarianism; four times), and (gender) equality (Rawlsianism; once)

{Thomas Malthus on Economic Growth, p. 256}

{no value-laden statement}

{Case Study: The Productivity Slowdown, pp. 257-259}

– stressing aggregate utility

“From 1973 to 1998, productivity grew by only 1.3 percent per year”, “If this slowdown had not occurred, the income of the average American would today be about 60 percent higher”, “slowdown […] has been one of the most important problems facing economic policymakers”, “optimistic scenario is that the computer revolution will rejuvenate economic growth […]”, “A more pessimistic scenario is […] slower growth”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; five times)

{Conclusion: The Importance of Long-Run Growth, pp. 259-261}

– stressing aggregate utility

“how policymakers can endeavor to raise the standard of living through policies that promote economic growth”, “policymakers […] must aim to increase their nation’s productive ability […]”, “success of one generation’s policymakers in learning and heeding the fundamental lessons about economic growth determines what kind of world the next generation will inherit”

– stressing property rights

“at the very least, government can lend support to the invisible hand by maintaining property rights […]”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; three times), and property rights (Libertarianism; once)

{In The News: A Solution To Africa’s Problems, pp. 260-261}

– stressing aggregate utility

“adviser to governments seeking reform their economies and raise economic growth”, [remedies to the growth tragedy include] “overall market orientation, including openness to trade, domestic market liberalization, private rather than state ownership, protection of private property rights”, “Africa’s long-term growth predicament”

– stressing minimal government intervention

“subsidies to publicly owned companies or marketing boards should be scrapped”

– stressing economic freedom and property rights

[remedies to the growth tragedy include] “overall market orientation, including openness to trade, domestic market liberalization, private rather than state ownership, protection of private property rights”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility (Utilitarianism; three times), and minimal government intervention, economic freedom, and property rights (Libertarianism; twice)

{Summary, p. 262}

– stressing aggregate utility and national welfare

“Economic prosperity, as measured by GDP per person”, “relative positions of countries can change dramatically over time”, “Government policies can influence the economy’s

growth rate [… by] maintaining property rights”

– stressing property rights

“Government policies can influence the economy’s growth rate [… by] maintaining property rights”

This subchapter was coded and classified as: stressing aggregate utility and national welfare (Utilitarianism; three times), and property rights (Libertarianism; once)

3.2.1 Summary of coding of the Mankiw’s chapter (frequency table):

|Political Philosophy |Core Value |Number of Times Stressed |

|Rawlsianism - 1 |Equality/equity |1 |

| |Helping the least favored |0 |

| |Social protection |0 |

| |Market regulation |0 |

|Libertarianism - 10 |Liberty, individual choice |2 |

| |Property rights |6 |

| |Economic freedom |2 |

| |Merit |0 |

|Utilitarianism - 30 |Aggregate utility |29 |

| |National welfare |1 |

| |Economic freedom as means |0 |

Mankiw’s chapter, twenty-two pages long, contains forty-one value-laden statements, of which almost three quarters were passages stressing Utilitarian values. Libertarianism scored second with ten occurrences. Rawlsianism had only one value-laden statement.

4 Conclusions and an Evaluation of the Analysis

Economics textbooks are not-value free. The two most used English-language textbooks seem to stress mostly Utilitarian values when analyzed for a particular chapter on growth. To a lesser degree, they indirectly advocate also Rawlsianism and Libertarianism. Only in a small minority of cases is this propagation overt. The examples of value-connotative vocabulary include words such as improvement, expansion, increase, important, contribution etc. Mankiw’s textbook contains less value-judgments than McConnell & Brue’s. Mankiw, as opposed to McConnell & Brue’s, for instance, explicitly identifies the trade-off between future growth and today’s consumption. This means that the authors of the latter textbook pose an implicit value judgment (by omission) about the time preference (which is by nature subjective) of all consumers and producers (on time preference see: Garrison 2005).

Validity

Checking the validity of the coding frame is a rather tricky task in my case. Categories coded much frequently than others are not necessarily “lumping together” different aspects of the text, on the contrary, they lead the researcher to conclude about the value content of a textbook. There were no “miscellaneous” codes assigned, for I considered it theoretically sustainable to try in each case to fit any value present into any of the three major philosophies shaping the Western political world. Moreover, this kind of artificial “fitting” of a value into one of the categories did not occur with any significant frequency.

A major drawback in terms of validity might be the sampling (choice of chapters), since chapters on economic growth would, quite understandably, portray this phenomenon as important to achieve; otherwise it would need not have been covered in the textbooks. This had not occurred to me before the analysis was way under being done, however, and thus could not be changed. This might in the future be overcome by coding the whole textbooks, not just certain chapters.

Considering the validity of the coding itself, my interpretation of implicit value-ladenness can be correct, but does not have to be apparent to a layman reader. This would indicate that I am identifying a propagation of certain societal values subconsciously.

Reliability (see presentation, slide 48)

If we consider my analysis as content analysis, there might be problems with inter-rater reliability, for I have coded the text only myself. This absence puts the analysis more into the coding camp rather than content analysis. The intracoder reliability, however, had been confirmed by a second coding of mine in a few days time after the first run. During the second coding, I readjusted the attribution of codes related to individual utility (and re-labeling to individual choice), in order to more precisely reflect the difference between Utilitarianism and Libertarianism.

From a broader social science discourse perspective, it would also be worthwhile, though out of scope for this paper, to compare with other social science textbooks (e.g. sociology).

References

Ambrus, Valer. 2001. “Max Webers Wertfreiheitpostulat und die naturalistische Begründung von Normen.” Journal of General Philosophy of Science 32: 209- 236.

Black, John. 2003. Oxford Dictionary of Economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Block, Walter E. 1975. “On Value Freedom In Economics.” The American Economist 19: 38-41.

Boyatzis, R. 1998. Transforming qualitative information. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Damasio, A. R. 2000. Descartes’ Error. New York, NY: McQuill.

Davis, John B. 2005. “Robbins, Textbooks, and the Extreme Value Neutrality View.” History of Political Economy 37: 191-196.

Garrison, Roger W. (2005) “The Austrian School”, in: Snowdon, Brian, & Howard R. Vane. Modern Macroeconomics. Northhampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 474-516.

Heath Will C. 1994. “Value Judgments and the Principles of Economics Textbook.” Southern Economic Journal 60: 1060-1064.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 1995. Economic Science and the Austrian Method. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute. Available at: .

Retrieved December 28, 2006.

Kirzner, Israel M. 1994. “Value Freedom”, in: Boettke, Peter J. (ed.), The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics, Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 313–19.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kymlicka, Will. 1990. “Utilitarianism”, “Liberal Equality”, “Libertarianism”. in: Kymlicka, Will: Contemporary Political Philosophy – An Introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 9-49, 50-94, 95-159 respectively.

Lehuta, Michal. 2006. ‘Normative Justification for CAP? Assessing the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy with the Theories of Rawlsianism, Utilitarianism, and Libertarianism’ (unpublished seminar paper). International University Bremen.

Mankiw, Gregory N. 2001. “Production and Growth”, in: Principles of Economics, 2nd ed, Forth Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 241-263.

McConnell, Campbell R. and Stanley L. Brue. 2001. “Economic Growth”, in: Macroeconomics, 15th ed, Glencoe: McGraw-Hill. Available at: .

Mongin, Philippe. 2006. “Value Judgments and Value Neutrality in Economics”. Economica 73: 257-286. Abstract at: .

Ritenour, Shawn. 2005. “Samuelson and Rothbard: Two Texts and Two Legacies”. The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 8: 71-94.

Rothbard, Murray N. 2004. Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market. Scholar’s Edition. Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Samuelson, Paul A. & William D. Nordhaus. [1948] 2005. Economics, 18e. Irwin: McGraw-Hill.

-----------------------

[1] Economists often use the phrase “on the one hand, […], on the other, […]”.

[2] I am quite familiar with this book for I worked as a teaching assistant in the course “Introduction to Economics”, where Mankiw’s textbook is used as a primary reading text.

[3] This list is by nature not comprehensive. Supposing an unlimited number of potential values to be stressed, political philosophies are commonly defined by certain core principles, with blurred or often overlapping boundaries (Kymlicka 1990).

................
................

In order to avoid copyright disputes, this page is only a partial summary.

Online Preview   Download