Arnold’s argument that economics is about using particular frameworks as lenses for interpretation is also quite postmodern.
Well, sort of.
Consider three statements.
a) Amazon announced its intention to purchase Whole Foods.
b) Amazon should not be allowed to purchase Whole Foods.
c) Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods damages the prospects of other grocers.
(a) is an example of a fact. (b) is an example of a feeling.
(c) is an example of an observation based on a filter, in that it depends on one’s framework of interpretation. You might think one way if you see Amazon’s move as intensifying competition in the grocery industry. You might think differently if you see it reducing competition and/or as a signal that there is value in national grocery franchises (what if Google or Facebook decide they also want to own grocery stores?). And, yes, the drop in stock prices for other large grocery chains says that investors favor one interpretation more than another. But my point is that the interpretation is contestable.
Some more remarks.
1. In 20th-century philosophy, the Logical Positivists seemed to dismiss the concept of filters. They would regard (c) as an attempted fact-claim. Anything other than a fact-claim or a feeling is a dogma.
2. The Post-modernists take the opposite view. Every statement comes through a filter. This would make every statement contestable, including (a).
3. I wish to take an intermediate position. I believe that there are scientific observations and laws that are not contestable, but I also believe that filters are very important. Synonyms for filters include frameworks of interpretation, models, theories, and paradigms.
4. In Specialization and Trade, I argue against the dominant filter in macroeconomics, which I call the GDP factory.
5. In The Three Languages of Politics, I argue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians each use distinctive linguistic filters. If you make an argument using terms that correspond to (for example) the progressive’s linguistic filter, a progressive will approve that argument, while it will fail to resonate with a conservative or libertarian.
6. In both books, I am suggesting that people think they see truth, but there are different plausible filters that would change their outlook.
7. However, I do not go so far as to say that there is no truth, and that any belief system is as good as any other. Instead, I am saying that sometimes there is more than one plausible filter. If you are sending a man to the moon or building a computer, you had better use the consensus scientific filters. In other realms, where causal density is high, no filter is robust.
8. If you want to be wise, you need to acknowledge the anomalies that cast doubt on your filters. Otherwise, you end up treating your filter as a sacred tribal doctrine.
9. There is a prominent version of post-modernism that I would term Left Post-modernism. Strictly speaking, post-modernism should lead one to be aware of many possible filters and skeptical of one’s own filters. In contrast, Left Post-modernism puts everything through the filter of race and gender and is entirely lacking in self-doubt. For example, in Sunday’s WaPo, Tung Yin writes,
Mass killings look the most like terrorism when their perpetrators seem the most alien from the Judeo-Christian, white majority.
This is Left Post-modernism treating its filter as a sacred tribal doctrine, ignoring some pretty obvious contrary evidence. Just off the top of my head, the Irish Republican Army and the Baader-Meinhof gang were labeled terrorists.
The WaPo itself has an analysis on line (not in print, that I could see) of Friday’s terrorist stabbing in Jerusalem, which is focused on “who they were working with and for.” That is one distinctive feature of terrorism, which is that the perpetrators claim to act on behalf of an organization that engages in terrorism. But far be it from Yin to admit that the term “terrorism” is anything other than a racist epithet.
Speaking of Friday’s attack, in which an Israeli policewoman was stabbed to death before the attackers were killed, The BBC notoriously headlined the incident “Three Palestinians killed after deadly stabbing in Jerusalem.” This is how they prefer to filter such news (although in this rare instance, following Israeli outrage the BBC later changed the headline). The WaPo filtered the news even more effectively, because I did not see any coverage of the incident at all in its print editions. It might otherwise disturb the narrative that the WaPo put forth prominently in recent Sunday editions, in which the Palestinians suffer from checkpoints for no reason under “occupation.”
The WaPo news and Outlook sections are now all Left Post-modernism, all the time. The editorial page is sometimes more broad-minded, but I have given up on the heavy-handed filtering disguised as reporting and analysis. For news, I look elsewhere.