Home > Uncategorized > The pretense-of-knowledge syndrome in economics

The pretense-of-knowledge syndrome in economics

from Lars Syll

What does concern me about my discipline … is that its current core — by which I mainly mean the so-called dynamic stochastic general equilibrium approach — has become so mesmerized with its own internal logic that it has begun to confuse the precision it has achieved about its own world with the precision that it has about the real one …

While it often makes sense to assume rational expectations for a limited application to isolate a particular mechanism that is distinct from the role of expectations formation, this assumption no longer makes sense once we assemble the whole model. Agents could be fully rational with respect to their local environments and everyday activities, but they are most probably nearly clueless with respect to the statistics about which current macroeconomic models expect them to have full information and rational information.

pretenceThis issue is not one that can be addressed by adding a parameter capturing a little bit more risk aversion about macro-economic, rather than local, phenomena. The reaction of human beings to the truly unknown is fundamentally different from the way they deal with the risks associated with a known situation and environment … In realistic, real-time settings, both economic agents and researchers have a very limited understanding of the mechanisms at work. This is an order-of-magnitude less knowledge than our core macroeconomic models currently assume, and hence it is highly likely that the optimal approximation paradigm is quite different from current workhorses, both for academic andpolicy work. In trying to add a degree of complexity to the current core models, by bringing in aspects of the periphery, we are simultaneously making the rationality assumptions behind that core approach less plausible …

The challenges are big, but macroeconomists can no longer continue playing internal games. The alternative of leaving all the important stuff to the “policy”-typ and informal commentators cannot be the right approach. I do not have the answer. But I suspect that whatever the solution ultimately is, we will accelerate our convergence to it, and reduce the damage we do along the transition, if we focus on reducing the extent of our pretense-of-knowledge syndrome.

Ricardo J. Caballero

A great article that also underlines — especially when it comes to forecasting and implementing economic policies  — that the future is inherently unknowable, and using statistics, econometrics, decision theory or game theory, does not in the least overcome this ontological fact.

treatprobAccording to Keynes we live in a world permeated by unmeasurable uncertainty – not quantifiable stochastic risk – which often forces us to make decisions based on anything but “rational expectations.” Keynes rather thinks that we base our expectations on the confidence or “weight” we put on different events and alternatives. To Keynes, expectations are a question of weighing probabilities by “degrees of belief,” beliefs that often have preciously little to do with the kind of stochastic probabilistic calculations made by the rational agents as modelled by “modern” social sciences. And often we “simply do not know.”

So why do economists, companies and governments continue with the expensive, but obviously worthless, activity of trying to forecast/predict the future?

A couple of years ago yours truly was interviewed by a public radio journalist working on a series on Great Economic Thinkers. We were discussing the monumental failures of the predictions-and-forecasts-business. But — the journalist asked — if these cocksure economists with their “rigorous” and “precise” mathematical-statistical-econometric models are so wrong again and again — why do they persist wasting time on it?

In a discussion on uncertainty and the hopelessness of accurately modelling what will happen in the real world — in M. Szenberg’s Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies — Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow comes up with what is probably the most plausible reason:

It is my view that most individuals underestimate the uncertainty of the world. This is almost as true of economists and other specialists as it is of the lay public. To me our knowledge of the way things work, in society or in nature, comes trailing clouds of vagueness … Experience during World War II as a weather forecaster added the news that the natural world as also unpredictable. cloudsAn incident illustrates both uncer-tainty and the unwilling-ness to entertain it. Some of my colleagues had the responsi-bility of preparing long-range weather forecasts, i.e., for the following month. The statisticians among us subjected these forecasts to verification and found they differed in no way from chance. The forecasters themselves were convinced and requested that the forecasts be discontinued. The reply read approximately like this: ‘The Commanding General is well aware that the forecasts are no good. However, he needs them for planning purposes.’

  1. Mike Ryan
    September 8, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    Charles Merriam worked for Woodrow Wilson during WW1. It was the Italian loss to Germany via propaganda that worried him the most. (Farewell to Arms) He became acutely aware of how propaganda could shape the minds of the masses. He wrote a book – the Making of Citizens, where he described how the education system should be used to frame the thoughts of the masses. He executed his plan to perfection using The Social Science Research Council, Paul Samuelson and MIT. They were his foundations for economic propaganda sponsored mostly by the Rockefeller foundation. How could the masses resist this new science? Any professor that opposed the plan lost his or her job. Lorie Tarshis had a similar book but it was not damning enough on labor unions and was chased from the Ivory tower. The science is actually the science of shaping minds. “Think tanks” are the modern day equivalent to the Social Science Research Council – they churn out articles that teach the wealthy how to think stomping out any ideas that might contribute to societies commonwealth. They all know that each dollar that goes to commonwealth is a dollar less the wealthy have.

    Stop the madness. Suit your University for selling you a false education.

  2. Jorge Buzaglo
    September 8, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    In my view, the problem is not rational communication or language (be it mathematics, statistics, formal logic, English, etc.) but the values that are being communicated and promoted, and behind the values being promoted, the (class) interests that are being sponsored. The old Gunnar Myrdal had a good book on that (The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory) and recommended that economists arguing for particular policies should declare their political standpoint. As I see it, the problem with radical skepticism and radical uncertainty is that it undermines rational communication and debate (i.e., civilized class struggle) and can lead to nihilism, irrationalism, and finally to the “language” of brute force.

  3. Craig
    September 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    The real economic problem is much worse and much more insidious than simply DSGE and its rational expectations etc. etc. fallacious assumptions. It’s the long term 5000 year old assumption that private or publicly controlled finance and its equally long paradigm of Debt Only as the sole form and vehicle for the distribution of money. It is like breathing. We/re normally unconscious of it until like 2008 we can’t breathe/finance all of a sudden and it comes home to us in a panic how important breathing/a more than adequate amount of money is continuously available for exchange.

    Keen nailed it with his de-bunking of DSGE and Hudson is spot on in his identifying finance as a huge parasite on the rest of the actually productive economy…IT’S JUST THAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO PROCEED IN TRANSCENDING BOTH CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH ABUNDANTLY DIRECT AND RECIPROCAL MONETARY DISTRIBUTISM AT THE POINT OF RETAIL SALE….and of course a relative handful of further regulations and a structural change or two..

    How many times do we have to beat the dead steed of DSGE etc. and keep droning on with our particular (correct) social science insights?

    “It’s the monetary paradigm, stupid.”, the insight of the policy power point of retail sale with a 50% Discount/Rebate monetary policy there and the ultimate integrative philosophical concept of grace as in monetary gifting leading and guiding the the consequently transformed economy.

  4. Yoshinori Shiozawa
    September 11, 2019 at 12:05 am

    Arrow’s remark must be related to “usefulness versus truthfulness” issue of sciences. This can be well illustrated by the duality of astrology and astronomy.

    See my comment on July 18 and arguments that follows in the question in ResearchGate:
    Does Post Keynesian Economics need no theoretical foundations?

    (N.B. It is necessary to scroll many times [push the button “Show previous answers”] until you can see the comments in June.)

    • Rob
      September 11, 2019 at 1:48 am

      Arrow’s remark must be related to “usefulness versus truthfulness” issue of sciences. This can be well illustrated by the duality of astrology and astronomy. ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa
      At this point let me say a few words about the often debated question whether any of the social sciences is a ‘real’ science. As often happens with such debates the arguments for as well as against omit the obvious truth that the answer to this question will depend on what we mean by science. If we mean exact science like physics or chemistry, then neither economics nor psychology nor sociology nor any other kind of research into human conduct is a science [, which obviously includes economics]. But if we agree to affix this honorific label to any kind of systematic study which aims at providing careful descriptions, substantiated explanations and factually supported generalizations, then we can say that the above mentioned branches of learning are sciences — although the propriety of this appellation will depend on whether we decide on the basis of aspirations or actual performance, and whether we look at the average or at the highest achievements. (Andreski 1973, 22-23, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

      Shiozawa likes to setup false dichotomies as non sequiturs to his scientism. Perhaps the real question is related to the “usefulness AND truthfulness” of Shiozawa’s remarks?

      • Rob
        September 11, 2019 at 1:50 am
      • Rob
        September 11, 2019 at 1:51 am
      • Rob
        September 11, 2019 at 2:06 am

        The term “astrology” is a red herring in Shiozawa’s sophistry. It is a foil for him to artificially argue against while ignoring the real point of the post. He uses innuendo and bravado, ex cathedra dogmatic assertions without evidence, for he really doesn’t care one wit about the real issue being discussed, just about hawing his pet theories on RWER. He claims medicine wasn’t a real science until the advent of molecular biology. Of course, this is patently false and simply ludicrous. He claims economics is simply in the pre-Copernican stage, but his theory will bring it to a new Central Dogma and into the age of being a true science (i.e., like physics). He engages in intellectual parroting of biological “terms” as metaphors while remaining abjectly ignorant of the current state of the field of biology or its history, which is a perfect example of what is called epistemic trespassing (Ballantyne 2018) or as Morson and Shapiro call Spoofing.

        Spotting the Spoof
        The best dialogues take place when each interlocutor speaks from her best self, without pretending to be something she is not. In their recent book Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller expand the standard definition of “phishing.” In their usage, it goes beyond committing fraud on the Internet to indicate something older and more general: “getting people to do things that are in the interest of the phisherman” rather than their own. In much the same spirit, we would like to expand the meaning of another recent computer term, “spoofing,” which normally means impersonating someone else’s email name and address to deceive the recipient—a friend or family member of the person whose name is stolen—into doing something no one would do at the behest of a stranger. Spoofing in our usage also means something more general: pretending to represent one discipline or school when actually acting according to the norms of another. Like phishing, spoofing is meant to deceive, and so it is always useful to spot the spoof.
        Students who take an English course under the impression they will be taught literature, and wind up being given lessons in politics that a political scientist would scoff at or in sociology that would mystify a sociologist, are being spoofed. Other forms of the humanities—or dehumanities, as we prefer to call them—spoof various scientific disciplines, from computer science to evolutionary biology and neurology. The longer the spoof deceives, the more disillusioned the student will be with what she takes to be the “humanities.” (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (pp. 1-2). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

        By the same token, when economists pretend to solve problems in ethics, culture, and social values in purely economic terms, they are spoofing other disciplines, although in this case the people most readily deceived are the economists themselves. We will examine various ways in which this happens and how, understandably enough, it earns economists a bad name among those who spot the spoof.
        But many do not spot it. Gary Becker won a Nobel Prize largely for extending economics to the furthest reaches of human behavior, and the best-selling Freakonomics series popularizes this approach. What seems to many an economist to be a sincere effort to reach out to other disciplines strikes many practitioners of those fields as nothing short of imperialism, since economists expropriate topics rather than treat existing literatures and methods with the respect they deserve. Too often the economic approach to interdisciplinary work is that other fields have the questions and economics has the answers. (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (pp. 2-3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)
        As with the dehumanities, these efforts are not valueless. There is, after all, an economic aspect to many activities, including those we don’t usually think of in economic terms. People make choices about many things, and the rational choice model presumed by economists can help us understand how they do so, at least when they behave rationally—and even the worst curmudgeon acknowledges that people are sometimes rational! We have never seen anyone deliberately get into a longer line at a bank. (Morson, Gary Saul. Cents and Sensibility (p. 3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)
        Even regarding ethics, economic models can help in one way, by indicating what is the most efficient allocation of resources. To be sure, one can question the usual economic definition of efficiency—in terms of maximizing the “economic surplus”—and one can question the establishment of goals in purely economic terms, but regardless of which goals one chooses, it pays to choose an efficient way, one that expends the least resources, to reach them. Wasting resources is never a good thing to do, because the resources wasted could have been put to some ethical purpose. The problem is that efficiency does not exhaust ethical questions, and the economic aspect of many problems is not the most important one. By pretending to solve ethical questions, economists wind up spoofing philosophers, theologians, and other ethicists. Economic rationality is indeed part of human nature, but by no means all of it.
        For the rest of human nature, we need the humanities (and the humanistic social sciences). In our view, numerous aspects of life are best understood in terms of a dialogue between economics and the humanities—not the spoofs, but real economics and real humanities. (Morson, Gary Saul and Shapiro Morton. Cents and Sensibility [What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities]. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 2017; pp. 1-3.)

  5. Ken Zimmerman
    September 12, 2019 at 12:11 am

    Please excuse the length of this comment. I’ve condensed as much as I can.

    Among the moral, philosophical, and political consequences of the emergence of the concept of culture has been the development of a doctrine of ‘cultural relativism’. We start from the premise that our beliefs, morals, behaviors – even our very perceptions of the world around us – are the products of culture, learned as members of the communities in which we are reared. If, as we believe, the content of culture is the product of the arbitrary, historical experience of a people, then what we are as social beings is also an arbitrary, historical product. Because culture so deeply and broadly determines our worldview, it stands to reason that we can have no objective basis for asserting that one such worldview is superior to another, or that one worldview can be used as a yardstick to measure another. In this sense, cultures can only be judged relative to one another, and the meaning of a given belief or behavior must first and foremost be understood relative to its own cultural context. That, in a nutshell, is the basis of what has come to be called ‘cultural relativism.’ It is important to understand that many anthropologists, especially in the United States, regard relativism not as a dogma or an ideological necessity, but, at heart, as an empirical finding. This has been most prominently expressed in the work of the anthropological linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, who used linguistic data to show that categories such as time, space, and number are given in different ways by different languages, leading Sapir to state that in learning a language, we learn a world. Thus, when reporting on a cloud burst speakers of English are likely to say, ‘it is raining’. But what is the ‘it’ that is raining? We say ‘it is raining’ because we are predisposed by our language to think of events in the world in terms of the direct effects of specific causes. In contrast, an Indonesian would report ‘Ada hujan’ (‘there is rain’). Rather than cause and effect, the Indonesian expression predisposes its speakers toward seeing the world as a flowing together of things and events.

    Taken to an extreme, a view of relativism that consigns the members of different cultures to utterly different worlds would make all translation impossible, including the translation performed in ethnography. As Dan Sperber has observed, ‘the relativist slogan, that people of different cultures live in different worlds, would be nonsense if understood as literally referring to physical worlds’, and an extreme ‘relativist in earnest should be either quite pessimistic about the possibility of doing ethnography at all or extraordinarily optimistic about the abilities of ethnographers.’ What cognitive relativism does mean is that the orientations provided in a language have consequences for a range of beliefs, institutions, and behaviors, something we should expect if cultures are even imperfectly integrated wholes. In the Indonesian example we might note that a predisposition toward viewing events in the world as confluences rather than as the immediate effects of causes is consistent with holding a person legally liable for events they ‘might have’ caused. For example, punishing someone for striking another in to reinforce respect for the institution of marriage.

    In addition to these aspects of cultural relativism we must also entertain the moral dimensions of cultural relativism. If the way one perceives the world is a product of one’s culture, then even more so are the beliefs, values, and social norms that govern one’s behavior. On what basis, then, can any society claim a monopoly on moral truth or claim to have discovered a superior set of norms and values? Behavior that might be nonsensical, illegal, or immoral in one society might be perfectly rational and socially accepted in another. The only reasonable thing to do, it would seem, is to suspend any judgement of the practices of another society. But this is not as simple a matter as it may seem to be. For one thing, we immediately re-encounter the problem of determining where cultural boundaries might be drawn, a particularly difficult matter in today’s world in which global patterns of migration and diaspora have led to the possibility of truly multicultural societies. How do we deal with the stranger in our midst when that stranger’s culture is morally different from our own? At what point are segments of a given community entitled to a claim of cultural distinctiveness that demands autonomy and respect? Are soccer hooligans or terrorists entitled to claim the protection of cultural relativism? Must we in the name of cultural relativism refrain from acting against ancient and traditional cultural practices in others that we see as oppressing a segment or class of that society?

    Culture is . . . learned, adaptable, symbolic behaviour, based on a full-fledged language, associated with technical inventiveness, a complex of skills that in turn depends on a capacity to organize exchange relationships between communities . . . Adam Kuper, 1994

    This is not merely an abstract metaphysical problem. Take the practice of economics. Economic relations are inextricably surrounded by the political and social. Part of the problem is that we are so involved in capitalist economies we tend to assume that the only kind of ‘economic’ behavior is that of buying and selling in the market, and the only context for such activities is the nation-state. But reciprocity can be an equally significant economic principle in human life and a full understanding of economic life in many societies would have to take account of a range of non-market transactions such as marriage payments, gift exchanges, tribute, and sacrifice, and specialized institutions such as clan organizations, caste, slavery, or kingship. Looking at people and their things in terms of exchange and the social relations that surround it is one important way anthropologists have approached economy. Another important way of looking at the economy is through the lens of production. Karl Marx saw our drive to create by transforming nature as the essence of humanity. This in turn led him to classify societies based on their productive relations: primitive, feudal, oriental, capitalist, and socialist. An important school of neo-evolutionary anthropology has produced its own evolutionary typology based on how people organize themselves to produce, the technologies they have available to them, and the environment in which they operate. According to this classification, there are four basic patterns of human society. There are foraging societies, in which people live in relatively small, flexible, nomadic groups, possess a subsistence technology designed for hunting and gathering wild foods, and range over a relatively large territory. There are tribal societies, in which people live in larger groups (often articulated by ties of descent), possess a technology that allows them to practice some form of horticulture (such as digging sticks, axes for cutting back the forest), and unlike foraging societies (in which group size and composition tracks environmental variability), have a capacity to store and preserve food so that they can somewhat insulate themselves against seasonal fluctuations in food supply. The third type of society is the chiefdom in which people are divided into ranked social groups based on proximity of descent from a noble or sacred ancestor and in which commoners pay some kind of tribute to the nobles. Chiefly societies tend to maintain larger populations and may employ technologies such as irrigation which, while costly, allow the population to produce food crops more intensively. Finally, there is the state, which is complexly stratified, often divided into urban and rural components. The rural component, or peasant sector, produces surpluses with a highly developed agricultural technology to support the cities, which in turn maintain a highly complex division of labor with many kinds of craft specialists. While neo-evolutionary archaeologists caution us not to reify these into rigid evolutionary stages, this typology provides a rough classificatory tool that anthropologists of many different persuasions continue to use. The other side of production is consumption. Why do people want the things they want? An economist’s answer would begin with a list of basic human needs (food, shelter, and so on). It might then discuss a good’s scarcity, the dynamics of supply and demand, and how its consumption marks the consumer as a wealthy or important individual. Psychological explanations might also be invoked. But other factors also enter consumption decisions. In the United States, retail sales, one of the most important measures of the economy, peak around Christmas time. The economy of Turkey, where a different sacred calendar reigns, would not have the same periodicity. Even as basic a human need as food is inflected by cultural factors. Thus the Spanish conquistadores, when they first arrived in the New World, believed that even though there was an abundance of maize, game, fruits, and vegetables, they were being starved since they could not obtain wine, wheat, or olive oil – elements they believed to be essential to a healthy diet. In the case of conspicuous consumption, people want things so they can show they are not like anyone else, or at least not like most people. But as any good advertising executive can tell you, the sale of things ranging from clothing to cars is driven by consumers’ wishes to signal that they belong to some groups and do not belong to others. Consumption does not come naturally, then, but is something we must learn, and what one society learns to value might not be the same as what another society learns to value. A good example of this involves what we might call, following Alfred Gell, ‘exotic consumerism’. John was giving one of his Mixtec friends, who had been living in Tennessee, a ride back to Mexico in John’s car. On the day they were to leave the friend showed up with three television sets, a hair dryer, a chain saw, a gasoline lantern, two ‘boom boxes’, a microphone, and sundry other electronic equipment, all used and most of it not working very well (if at all). After spending quite some time trying to fit the load in the car, John turned to his friend in frustration and said ‘I can’t believe you want to bring all this junk back with you, especially since your town doesn’t have electricity.’ Later, when John visited his friend’s house in an isolated area of the Mixteca, he saw all these items in the house, with most of them set up on tables and shelves almost like museum pieces. These were meant to be artefacts of the man’s travels, and they were meant to display his ability to consume Western electronic gear. Six months later John gave the same friend a ride back to the United States. This time it was John who filled up the car, with pottery, bark paintings, woven rugs and blankets, straw baskets, and papier mâché figures. His Mixtec friend, after spending eight hours balancing a large pot on his lap, got out of the car and using almost the same language John had used six months earlier, said in frustration ‘I can’t believe you bought all this junk to bring back with you, especially since you never use any of these pots for cooking!’ Finally, we must consider money and markets. ‘Money’, as Cyndi Lauper reminds us, ‘changes everything’. In the politics of reciprocity and exchange of simple societies the ‘economic’ value of a transaction is subordinated to the social relationship created by the transaction. In an important sense, each transaction is as unique as the individuals entering the exchange. Bronislaw Malinowski observed the Trobriand Islanders engaged in an elaborate ‘ring’ of exchanges with other Melanesian islanders whereby individuals travelled long distances to exchange specific kinds of goods with lifelong trading partners. As the items circulated in this ‘kula ring’ the history of the transactions and of their previous owners circulated with them, so that each exchange and each object acquired a unique life story. Money and market exchanges, the foundation blocks of modern economies, have precisely the opposite effect, and quite deliberately so. Reducing values to a common, standardized, convertible standard immensely increases the efficiency of exchanges both in speed and volume. When the token of exchange has no intrinsic value in relation to its worth – as is the case with money – then the transition of exchange to an abstraction is almost complete. And newer technologies, such as electronic funds transfers, complete the process. . Money is sometimes taken as an example of what Anthony Giddens has called ‘disembedding mechanisms’ that constitute the ‘dynamism of modernity’. By turning value into symbolic tokens produced and managed by expert systems, money erases the local particularities of production and exchange. But before we slip into another one of those traditional/modern dichotomies, keep in mind that this transition is not as complete as we might assume. ‘Modern’ currencies, like primitive valuables, are also symbols. The dollar bill, for example, portrays an ‘apical ancestor’, George Washington, uses ritual language, Latin, makes references to the original federation of states that gave rise to the United States, and repeatedly invokes God. What it does – and most currencies do this – is symbolize the strength and stability of the state that has issued it. In an era of huge trade deficits, the dollar’s high exchange ratio relative to other currencies only serves to underscore the fact that the value of a currency is based on trust and perceptions. Moreover, in capitalist economies, many forms of restricted use moneys exist, such as subway tokens, gift certificates, coupons, and food stamps, which are often issued with the warning that it is illegal to convert them into other currencies. And even in the United States money cannot buy everything – witness the outrage caused by the auction web site that offered body organs and religious credentials for sale. Although modern currencies are not as unique as social theorists sometimes make them out to be, this does not negate the profound effects the transition from a largely subsistence economy to a market economy has on people’s lives. Donggo was in the midst of such a transition when Peter conducted fieldwork in the early 1980s. Until that time the people of Doro Ntika had devoted the vast majority of their labor and productive effort to growing the food they ate and making the other things they needed. Everyone in the village farmed land; every woman was a competent weaver and made her family’s clothes; every man was a competent sawyer and carpenter who, with the help of his kin and friends, built the house in which he lived. In recent years, however, as education became available other kinds of opportunities opened up and some young people from the village became schoolteachers, police officers, and nurses. Parents were eager for their children to have such opportunities and were also eager to have access to the cash incomes such occupations provided and thereby have access to luxuries and consumer goods that only money can buy. But educating a child also requires cash money. For that and other reasons many Dou Donggo have shifted a good deal of their labor to cultivating crops such as peanuts and soybeans, which are not consumed by the farmer but are sold in lowland markets for cash. Men are increasingly likely to leave the village during the dry season to work as laborers on government building projects. While a shift to a cash economy offers great advantages, such as access to consumer goods and medicine, it also exposes people to new risks: if they invest too much of their resources in cash crops they put themselves at the mercy of market forces far beyond their control as the prices of their crops respond to global fluctuations in supply and demand. They may also end up worse off in nutritional terms, as a range of traditional subsistence crops is replaced by mono-crop cultivation. Beyond this, participation in international labor markets may increase the domestic burdens of some, as women and old people take the place of migrating men and younger people in the fields, effectively forcing some to work a double shift. Because other members of the migrant’s household assume responsibility for basic subsistence needs, the migrant’s wages can be kept artificially low, as they do not have to cover the cost of maintaining a family.

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