For the Higgy: Yusuke Narita

Yusuke Narita is a tenure-track economics professor at Yale with an impressive pedigree. He received his PhD from MIT, where he was mentored by Nobel Prize winner, Josh Angrist, and John Bates Clark Medal winner (which is often seen as a precursor to the Nobel), Parag Pathak. He has also frequently co-authored research with these prize-winning economists as he makes his way toward tenure at an Ivy League institution. But we at JPGB have developed a healthy skepticism of high status prizes, noting for example in our justification for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award that “the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.”

In the case of Yusuke Narita, it also appears that his high-status credentials are not consistent with high-level virtue. Narita became infamous earlier this year when it was revealed that he had been advocating for mass suicide among older people in Japan as a solution to their growing demographic problem. According to the Daily Mail:

A Yale University professor has sparked outrage by suggesting the only way to deal with Japan’s rapidly aging population is a mass suicide and disembowelment. 

Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, defended his views in a New York Times profile this weekend after he made the remarks on a streaming news program in 2021.

‘I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,’ he said at the time. ‘In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?’…

Narita told the New York Times he was ‘taken out of context’ but he has also said that euthanasia could become mandatory in the future, his comments forcing a backlash nonetheless. 

He claims that this would allow younger generations to make their way in business, politics and other aspects of society that the older generation refuses to leave. 

The Daily Mail continues:

Narita was asked to defend his views in a class earlier this year and did by showing a clip from the 2019 film Midsommar, in which a cult forces an older member to jump off a cliff. 

‘Whether that’s a good thing or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer,’ Narita said. ‘So if you think that’s good, then maybe you can work hard toward creating a society like that.’ 

There’s a term for mandatory euthanasia, and it isn’t mass suicide. It’s mass murder. But when you are a high status researcher, some people feel liberated from the constraints of common morality. These people imagine that they are guided by reason and science, not ignorant moral tradition, so they are free to pursue their “big thoughts” that regular people just aren’t smart enough to appreciate.

If flirting with mass murder was not enough, Narita has a recent paper in which he and a co-author run a series of sophisticated empirical models that “all show that democracy persistently causes worse outcomes in this century. The median estimate among our five IV strategies is that a standard deviation increase in the democracy level causes a 2 percentage point GDP decrease per year in 2001-2019 (50% of the outcome mean) and a 1.8 percentage-point GDP decrease in 2020 (40% of the outcome mean). Democracy also causes more Covid-19 deaths in 2020, with a median estimate of a 350 increase in Covid-19 deaths per million (120% of the outcome mean) per a standard deviation increase in democracy. To facilitate interpretation of the findings, the political-regime difference between China and the US is equivalent to a three standard deviation difference in the democracy index.”

Step aside Thomas Jefferson. Yusuke Narita has put on his lab coat and analyzed the data to show that democracy harms GDP growth and kills people in pandemics. If Narita had a proper education — rather than a narrow training in context-free causal model designing — he might know that democracy has long been denounced as counter-productive for economic growth and hindering effective governance, and those denunciations have been proven mistaken by history (even if not by a 5 IV model). The Soviets claimed to have cracked the code for rapid industrialization and high GDP growth, which helped them recruit many Third World countries to communism. But that rapid industrialization and high GDP growth proved to be grossly over-stated and unsustainable, leading eventually to the collapse of communist economies by the end of the 1980s. A well-educated scholar might suspect that Chinese GDP and Covid data might similarly be unreliable and any short-term advantages are likely to prove unsustainable, but Narita got his doctorate in economics from MIT. And even by the rules of his narrow MIT training, a proper scholar would doubt the exogeneity of his 5 IVs and suspect that his model is not truly causal.

When NYT columnist, Thomas Friedman, tries to shape public policy based on what his taxi driver tells him, it is easy to reject Friedman’s advice because his method of consulting taxi drivers lacks scientific authority. But when Ivy League economists run sophisticated models to tell us that democracy is harmful or that we need to encourage mass suicide among old people, they have cloaked themselves in the authority of science and it gets more difficult for people to reject their advice. No one wants to be accused of being a “science denier.”

Like the eugenicists of the 1920s, falsely invoking science helps spread bad ideas by making them feel modern and fashionable and by making opponents seem backward. Economists are increasingly the priestly class of our modern age, giving them undue influence over policy discussions. Over-claiming based on bad models with bad data has made too many of them PLDDers, bossing everyone else around with their false invocation of science. Yusuke Narita may be a perfectly fine person in other regards. He may be kind to his mother and love his cat, but he sure seems to have a bad case of PLDD and for that he is a worthy nominee for The Higgy.


5 Responses to For the Higgy: Yusuke Narita

  1. Greg Forster says:

    A very impressive nomination! The rest of us will have to step up our games this year.

  2. Emmett says:

    Can you blame him? Poor fella can’t even afford a pair of glasses, he’s cobbled some together from remnants. Probably cause all the olds are hoarding the good frames.

    • Good to hear from you, Emmett. I suspect it is not poor guy is unable to cobble together a matching set of glasses because of the olds using up all of the glasses. Instead, I suspect it is iconoclast researcher won’t be constrained by aesthetic norms of symmetry or bourgeois notions of right and wrong. He has the turtleneck to support my view, but is lacking the beret.

      • Greg Forster says:

        Eyeglasses with symmetrical rims are the second most reliable sign of bourgeois-poisoned brain death.

        The most reliable sign of bourgeois-poisoned brain death is eyeglasses with non-symmetrical rims.

      • Emmett says:

        It reminds me of a scene from the doc Art Talent Show (which I recommend). An aspiring art student emphatically states that smoking should be outright banned, but on second thought, maybe smoking is good because it kills humans, which is good for the planet. The difference is that, unlike Yusuke, the clip in that film serves as comic relief. (That clip is not in trailer, but here it is nonetheless)

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