Misunderstanding Randomness

In next week's New York Review of Books, Korean development economist Ha-Joon Chang responds to a review of his new book, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Chang defends his argument that the majority of rich nations today benefited from infant industry protection, and stands by his analysis that developing countries under an interventionist regime grew faster than those with neoliberal policies, looking at the period from 1980 to 2000. Pointing  to Switzerland, which didn't give women the vote until 1971, he disputes his reviewer's argument that representative democracy was a key to the economic development of Western countries. Chang concludes:

Mr. Easterly says that economic growth does not come from "experts" like me but entrepreneurs, like Ju-Yung Chung, the legendary founder of Hyundai. He conveniently omits the details that prove my point: before it succeeded in the world market, Chung's auto venture was supported by decades of import bans, export subsidies, and tariff protection.

For  Easterly, these salvos only strengthen his original argument that Chang finds "spurious patterns in partially random economic outcomes." Chang's rebuttals on infant industry protection and growth rates under neoliberal vs. interventionist regimes are further examples of  "selective use of evidence (confirmation bias) and excessive reliance on too little data."

Easterly continues:

Chang misses the point on how the evidence for any one good thing—like representative democracy—is only reliable in the very long run (lots of data) and cannot be confirmed or rejected with only a few examples (too little data). So he refutes my case for democracy with lots of data—by reliance on too little data (whether women in one country—Switzerland—could vote after 1971? Of course this is not trivial from a moral standpoint, but its weight as evidence is minuscule). The now-rich countries have been more democratic than the rest of the world on average in the long run and have been steadily increasing in democracy.

Mlodinow's book [The Drunkard's Walk, reviewed in the same article] warned that our brains are so hard-wired to misunderstand randomness that we make the same mistakes even after somebody points out the mistakes. I have been guilty of this myself in my own career, and unfortunately Chang now does the same with this letter.

Find the full exchange here.