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« Eric Maskin on Globalization and Inequality | Main | Kirzner on Rothbard -- a flawed genius »

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Pete,

I don't think you go far enough. It is not possible to start with the data. The world is full of data. You have to have some tentative explanation, implicit or explicit, in order to narrow your search. Otherwise, you might as well start your research on home prices in Northern Virginia by looking at data on the average temperature of Lake Michigan in the 1970s. Good economic research tends to make the model as explicit as possible in order to define the relevant data. John Nye used to ask a question along the lines of "If Santa Claus was going to bring you any data you wanted, what would he bring?" If you couldn't answer this question you weren't ready to go look for data.

The importance of theories when discussing facts is put best, I believe, by Thomas Sowell in his book, "A Conflict of Visions",

"Facts do not speak for themselves. They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theories or visions are mere isolated curiosities."

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