Robin Hanson on Simple, Evidence Backed Models

Link post

This is link to a Han­son post that is pri­mar­ily about tax re­turns, and whether they should be pub­lic. It was an in­ter­est­ing foray into the con­sid­er­a­tions that bear on that topic.

But I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the open­ing para­graph, which had a use­ful lens:

Our sim­plest model of an econ­omy is: sup­ply and de­mand. This model has many sim­ple im­pli­ca­tions for policy. Now we know of many much more com­pli­cated eco­nomic mod­els, which of­ten have quite differ­ent policy im­pli­ca­tions. But of­ten we are not sure which more com­plex mod­els ac­tu­ally ap­ply well to any given situ­a­tion. So we have to worry that peo­ple fa­vor more com­plex mod­els mainly to jus­tify their preferred poli­cies. Know­ing this pushes me to­ward recom­mend­ing the poli­cies im­plied by sup­ply and de­mand, un­less I see un­usu­ally clear ev­i­dence to sup­port a differ­ent eco­nomic model. (FYI, the ev­i­dence that fixed costs ex­ists seems plenty clear, so I re­ally mean sup­ply & de­mand with fixed costs.)
In our sim­plest modes of in­for­ma­tion, peo­ple are bet­ter off when they have more in­for­ma­tion, and also when in­for­ma­tion is dis­tributed more sym­met­ri­cally. There is a vast world of much more com­pli­cated mod­els, but it is of­ten hard to tell which more com­plex mod­els ap­ply well to given situ­a­tions, and many prob­a­bly fa­vor par­tic­u­lar mod­els to jus­tify preferred poli­cies. So as with sup­ply and de­mand, this un­cer­tainty pushes me to fa­vor the sim­plest info mod­els, and their policy recom­men­da­tions fa­vor­ing more info and more sym­met­ric info.