No Ethical Issues in Economics?
By Stuart Birks, School of Economics and Finance, Massey University, New Zealand
For much economics research, ethics committee approval is not required. This is seen by some as indicating that there are no ethical issues in economics research. However, ethical research requires more than simply meeting regulatory requirements. If economics research has an impact on perceptions and resulting decisions, then there may be concerns about the nature of the research and its impact.
There are a number of arguments that could be raised as to why economics does not describe the real world. What we see is shaped by how we see, so it is important to consider context. This paper considers the simplification that is an inevitable aspect of research. Implications for economic approaches are described, recognising that criticisms can apply to heterodox as well as mainstream approaches. Subjectivity is then discussed, questioning the traditional positive-normative distinction. An additional section relates to the application of economics. It focuses on the significance of rhetoric and the differing roles played by economists, each of which may have their own obligations and expectations. A theme throughout the paper is that of groups and group membership shaping perceptions and behaviour. The paper concludes that there are ethical issues in relation to both how and why economists undertake their work.