The merits of positive analysis

In last Friday’s issue of the News, Dianne Lake responded to an article I wrote in the Yale Economic Review on investment in Africa. Lake’s column (“Reinventing Colonialism,” Oct. 2) — which accused me of pioneering a “patronizing, neo-imperialist cliché” — suggested that my failure to take into account certain aspects of history and race theory regarding the African continent was not only “exploitative” but emblematic of a “fundamental failing in elite education” and in the field of economics

For the record, my article merely described the recent increase in investment on the African continent and why it has been appealing to certain individuals and corporations. It did not offer any normative judgments about whether this investment was a good or bad thing. It did not make any statement or suggestion about what does or doesn’t “validate” a country or continent’s existence. It did not imply that globalization unequivocally helped the people of Africa.

At Yale, the first thing taught in introductory economics is the distinction between the positive and normative approach. Positive economics describes things as they are; normative, as they ought to be. Economists, more often than not, deal with the positive approach. In many ways the positive informs the normative, but even if the positive is immoral or undesirable — as it can often be in the “dismal science” — that does not make it any less factual or valuable.

The column faulted me for not having published a different article asking different questions and reaching different conclusions. An article about present-day or future investment in Africa is not a history of colonialism nor a treatise about the ethical or moral character of capitalism. Those subjects deserve to be treated on their own terms and in a scope and from perspectives they merit. But to fault an author for not having addressed another topic, or for portraying the positive facts independent of a normative discussion is guilty of the weakest form of journalistic critique.

Benjamin Marrow

Oct. 9

The writer is a sophomore in Berkeley College. He is a senior editor of the Yale Economic Review.

Don’t be cynical about early voting

James Barile’s article (“Connecticut to consider constitutional amendment,” Oct. 2) understates the power of early voting to enfranchise the politically removed. Though early voting may not increase turnout alone, it boosts turnout significantly when coupled with same-day registration or voting by mail. Early voting is important for college students, who may have midterms on the first Tuesday in November. And early voting is vital for low-income and minority voters, who rely disproportionately on early voting in states that offer it.

Early voting also affirms our belief that no one should be disenfranchised by circumstances beyond her control. This idea is central to expanded voting opportunity, and it lies at the heart of our nation’s constitution, which guarantees that the right to vote is not abridged on account of race, sex or ability to pay taxes. Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Yale, states that early voting, at least now, does not “merit space in a constitution.” On the contrary, there is nowhere it belongs more.

This November, every voter in Connecticut should vote “Yes” on the Early Voting Amendment not only because it will make voting more convenient, reduce administrative costs and improve the accuracy of ballot counts. We should vote “Yes” for every person who cannot make it to the polls — those working non-salaried jobs without flexible hours, those who do not own cars, and those for whom the cost and logistics of childcare are a serious impediment to exercising a fundamental right. Vote “Yes” so that next November, they can vote, too.

Jared Milfred

Oct. 9

The writer is a junior in Pierson College. He is the executive director of Democracy United.