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Why Epistemology Is Important (in Economics and Everything Else)

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01/03/2019

Ketones are everywhere. And so are associated high fat, low carbohydrate diets, as well as eating patterns that include intermittent fasting – all championed as solutions to obesity, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, etc. While the diets have existed for some time, the addition of intermittent fasting is new, though ubiquitous. So much so that I took notice and considered modifying my eating patterns. Then it hit me ...

Thirty years ago, when I was racing bicycles, a new diet and book were the rage, at least for athletes. Robert Haas, the author of the book, Eat to Win, claimed his diet had rejuvenated the tennis career of Martina Navratilova, with Navratilova adamantly agreeing her stamina had improved immensely. The key to her enhanced performance was high-quality carbohydrates. Lots of them. Fats were the energy robbing evil and were eliminated as much as possible. So were simple sugars.

The diet made sense, at least to folks like me who had little grounding in the complex science of food, energy, and performance. It sure sounded better – more scientific – than trying to train and race on pancakes, pies, and Pepsi. So, for the most part, I lived it.

Then, a decade later, new "science" emerged saying that, for optimal recovery and muscle growth, athletes must replace the standard, three large meals with frequent, smaller meals. And I went along.

However, this article is not a history of diets and athletic performance. Nor is it a review of the science behind nutritional advice, or even a discussion of the efficacy of that advice. It is simply a reflection on how l, and masses of other folks, can seemingly change our views 180 degrees without any reflection on the process leading to that change. In other words, how is it that we adopt the latest fad, so to speak, without any pause as to why we now unwaveringly refute what we once claimed true?

Setting diets aside, since they are the personal choices of acting individuals, what I am interested in is how folks toss around in the sea of ideologies without any recognition that the policy they backed yesterday is anathema today. Some examples will help.

Sixty years ago, liberals were associated with interventions, domestic and international. Conservatives stood for the principle of no foreign entanglements. Even years later, the saying I heard as a youth was, "Democrats get us into wars, Republicans get us out of them." Then, over a short period of time, the liberals became antiwar, rightly protesting the conservatives’ eternal wars for eternal peace.

Though there appears to be some support among conservatives for a withdrawal from Syria, and maybe even other countries, conservatives are still pro military and pro interventionism. Conversely, the antiwar left has abandoned its position and adopted the current progressive program of fomenting civil strife.

Today, folks proudly call themselves liberal or conservative, pretending those words evince eternal views. Yet, leading liberals lament the passing of the warmonger, Papa Bush, while leading conservatives believe we need another progressive Bush or a revitalized Romney to return to the good ol’ days of the good old right – even though such views contradict the liberalism and conservatism of our past.

Again, this article is not an attempt to understand how those views were changed or who changed them. It is an attempt to grasp how folks claiming to be on one side or the other found themselves changing their views as well – without even a moments reflection of how their thoughts from yesterday clashed with their thoughts of today.

I am not questioning the current beliefs – that is for a different article. I am questioning how liberals went from a diet of high carbs to one of high fat, so to speak, and back again, with conservatives close behind, and neither side considering the lineage of their views.

The answer is epistemology – or lack thereof. Just as I have no real background in nutritional science, and can seemingly follow the latest craze without looking back, most folks lack any background in economics – or, more aptly, political economy. This allows them to cling to a term (conservative or liberal, or whatever) even as its definition changes underneath them.

Before I discovered Mises and the Mises Institute, I bounced between the various "scientific" positions on political economy. Without a strong understanding of the truth, I was easily swayed by the latest position paper. Since I had a degree in mathematics with a concentration in economics, I was certain the issue was not any specific policy, it was the mathematical models that justified policies and guided their implementation – the equations had some minor errors that simply needed to be fixed.

Once I read Mises, Rothbard, etc., I realized the issue was not the equations or even the policies, per se. The issue was the very foundation of my views. I now understand economics (though I am still learning), not just the various pieces and parts which can be reassembled in error, but the overarching foundation that serves to protect me from making critical mistakes and misjudgments.

I do not have anything near that understanding with regard to nutrition. But I should. Though nutrition is personal, it is essential to my life. So I need to read and research before allowing my views to be turned in obtuse angles.

Political economy also effects health. As views turn from freedom to control, our very existence is at risk. So it is imperative to understand political economy as well.

lf you do not have a foundation in economics, mises.org has all you need. Take some time to strengthen your foundation. And, just as importantly, take opportunities to direct others here. At minimum, ask them to define what they believe and why they believe it is truth. And when they can't, direct them here with more than a little encouragement. It will be good for our freedom as well.

Jim Fedako, a business analyst and homeschooling father of seven, lives in the wilds of suburban Columbus. Send him mail.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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