Thursday, August 16, 2007

Does the Scientific Method apply to Politics?

I'm a Skeptic. If you want to convince me of something, show me logic, or numbers, or a double-blind, placebo-controlled scientific study. Anecdotes or arguments that appeal to emotion are entertaining, but, to me, never convincing.

I've been reading and listening to a lot of progressive media lately, and the skeptic in me has been wondering if it's even possible to apply the scientific method to political questions. I think it is possible. Take Venezuela and Hugo Chávez, for example:

1. Develop a hypothesis: "modern socialism" works-- it makes the ordinary citizen healthier and wealthier.

2. Design an experiment to test the hypothesis: measure economic growth in Venezuela, factoring out external forces (like the price of oil). This is the tough part...

3. Run the experiment, and see if the results confirm the hypothesis or not.

I'd like to see more discussion between lefties and righties on what their fundamental political hypotheses are, and see if they can agree on ways of measuring whether or not those hypotheses are correct.

Of course, even if lefties and righties agree on steps 1 and 2, they can always endlessly argues about (3), arguing that real-world factors make the experiment invalid. Most people agree that Communism is a failed economic ideology, but die-hard Communists will argue that it failed in Russia and China only because the governments there did not apply the principles properly, or were corrupt, or....

I predict that Venezuela's economy will be a shambles when Pres. Chávez leaves office. I believe that it's extraordinary growth over the last few years is due entirely to the rise in the price of oil, and has very little to do with the socialist policies of the government1. Resource-rich countries tend to be cursed with rampant corruption in huge State bureaucracies, and I predict that Venezuela will be no different.

1 Spending oil money on education for everybody is a great idea, and a good long-term investment in a country's future. But I don't think it will be enough to overcome the negative effects of Chávez' other socialist economic policies.

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