EconTalk host Russ Roberts explored his skepticism about econometrics and causation with MIT’s Joshua Angrist. Did Angrist convince Roberts about the value of empirical methods today? Are you convinced?

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Check Your Knowledge:

1. What does Angrist cite as the primary types of empirical analysis available to researchers today?

2. In 1983, Ed Leamer argued that economists should do sensitivity analysis as a way to provide credibility for their findings. Angrist argues that economists have more credibility today but not because of sensitivity analysis. How does Angrist justify that claim?

Going Deeper:

3. Roberts points to three controversial areas in microeconomic research- the effect of class size on student achievement, the employment effects of minimum wage, and the relationship between health insurance and health outcomes. What has econometrics been able to show about each of these, according to Angrist? Are these areas where knowledge has become more reliable and precise because of empirical study?

Extra Credit:

4. Have you ever had your mind changed about a belief you had previously been strongly committed to? If so, what effected the change? If not, what would it take for you to change your views? Explain. (Related bonus question: What is the role for econometrics in effecting belief change? Are you as optimistic about the possibilities as Angrist, or as skeptical as Roberts? Explain.)

5. Roberts was skeptical that econometrics convinces politicians about which policies they should pursue. What is Roberts’s argument? How does Angrist respond? What might settle their differences?