Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Always, always go with science

I really want to like EconPop, the new comedy-slash-economic education web series from EconStories; the same people who brought us the Keynes and Hayek rap videos.

I want to like it, but having seen the first episode, I don't.

The first episode combs the Dallas Buyers Club movie for economic and libertarian messages. Some of them are good points, like how capitalism promotes tolerance by getting people to trade with folks they might otherwise hate, and a good lesson on regulatory capture.

But there's a part of the episode that I found repulsive, and it wasn't the awful George Stigler segment. It was the promotion of medical pseudoscience.

The film presents the FDA as a corrupt, incompetent agency that blocks good medicine, including the life-saving supplements the film's hero sold to the public as HIV treatment. While I think that portrayal of the FDA isn't far from the truth, the magic bean cures it was trying to stop were a legitimate problem.

The film, and EconPop, portrays anecdotal "it worked for me" stories as evidence that the supplements are useful for treating HIV. They aren't, and it's well established that most of these things he sold were bad medicine.

Economics and scientific skepticism are two dimensions of scientific analysis that I value. Most of the time when I see them clash I go with the economic perspective. That's because I usually conclude that the skeptic failed to understand the economics of the situation, and their analysis would change if they understood it. In this case, the economic approach failed to understand skepticism, and produced a flawed point.

There is a second episode of EconPop out, but it's on the economics of House of Cards and I will wait until I finish season two to see it.


  1. In light of this post and the one you made on the FDA years ago, does this mean you are against making the FDA voluntary?

  2. I'm against the FDA existing as it does now. I think there is a room for a much weaker version of the FDA that functions similar to how it does now. For example, I think it's a good idea to have regulations on testing donor blood for diseases.

  3. So you don't think it should be voluntary? Why is that?