In a fascinating and far-ranging conversation with Nobel Laureate James Heckman (who was also one of his teachers), EconTalk host Russ Roberts explored the progress, problems, and limits of econometric analysis–the application of statistics to economic data.

There’s a lot to learn this week’s episode, and lots to think about as well. We hope you’ll use the prompts below to continue our conversation in the comments. As you know, we love to hear from you!


1. Why might there be a difference between measured and real progress? Why is it important to recognize this distinction, and in what additional areas have policy makers failed to account for this?
2. How does Heckman’s observation about the composition of women in the labor force affect our assessment of progress made by women relative to men? Is his take a more optimistic or pessimistic one than the norm?

3. What surprised you in Heckman’s and Roberts’s discussion about the disagreement among economists regarding minimum wage? (Bonus: How does their conversation help illustrate the concept of demand elasticity?)

4. Roberts and Heckman agree that there’s no such thing as an objective fact. But Heckman also says that, “…the facts almost never fully speak for themselves, but they do speak.” What does he mean by this, and what does it suggest about the success of economic analysis in the policy realm?