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January 11, 2005



"...unless we are willing to assume that motives never have consequences..."

Well, they seldom have intended consequences at any rate, which is yet another reason to take a dim view of such analysis. But I too think that Kling is a bit naive to suggest that academic papers are ever free of type M. It's just human behavior, the smelly stuff you overlook since it is just part of the package. They are economists after all not scientists.

Julian Elson

Type M analysis is not only valid for economic analysis: it is critical. Type C analysis probably suggests that the solution to the prisoners dilemma is Pareto-optimal solution: withhold/withhold. Looking at the motives of the parties involves allows us to see the true Nash equilibirum, confess/confess. Similarly, a Type C analyst would never be able to think of the Cournot equilibrium of duopoly supply. She would look at what had the best consequences for the firms (in which case she'd get the collusive monopolistic equilibbrium) or for society (in which case she'd get Bertrand/competitive equilibirum.) If economic analysis of motives and incentives is useful for understanding the consequences of a policy, why isn't analysis of the motives of the policy makers themselves useful in understanding how the policy will be created? This is the point of public choice theory, after all, and you'd think a steadfast right-winger like Arnold Kling would approve of that sort of thing.

Abiola Lapite

Well, I think it can be put rather simply: motives matter because they tell you where to start looking for the flaws in an argument, or even whether the argument is worth taking the trouble to evaluate to begin with.

I certainly wouldn't bother to read through anything about evolution a creationist put in front of me, nor would I ever bother to give a known Klansman's ideas on affirmative action a moment's thought, and I maintain that this is perfectly rational behavior, as my time isn't free, and there are other more worthwhile things I could be doing with it.


Considering and taking into account what we believe people's motives to be is fine, but publically speculating about their motives is a different, and dicier, practice. The standard of suspicion/proof is far lower for the former.

joe o

You are right. Motives matter. It is important to figure them out to properly analyse any proposal. The consequences of a proposal can't be adequately understood until you know why someone is doing something.

The concept of a negotiation is a good one. Good lawyers always know why every provision is in a contract. If something isn't boilerplate and you don't know why it is in there, you ask the other side what it means or take it out. If you know the motive for a questionable provision, it is often easy to rewrite it to make both sides happy. It is pretty easy to tell when someone is lying about the motive for a provision; the provision will be too convoluted or too broad for the expressed motive.

Speculating about base motives in public may be bad form, but it is crucial when you are dealing with the Bush administration who have a history of lying about the reasons for policy. Why trust those bastards?

John Emerson

Kling in the past has been one of several commentators on DeLong's blog who are adamant about this particular question. I have argued with him and the others for hours.

Decontextualization has been drilled into one part of the social science community is if it were the first essential step toward Truth. (See Toulmin's Cosmopolis -- or practically anything else by him).


That's very interesting, John. I find it almost impossible to believe he can really believe this. I had assumed it was just a bit of pro-Bush dust in our eyes, frankly. A little sleight of hand, sliding from 'some statements about motive are inappropriate' to 'all statements about motive must be inappropriate.'

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