The One-Dimensionality of Econometric Data: The Frankfurt School and the Critique of Quantification

  • Scott Timcke
Keywords: econometrics, data, reification, ideology, numbers


Econometric data are used to produce authoritative facts about the world. Yet, as numbers enjoy a central place in modern reasoning (particularly in government as their presumed objectivity and neutrality assist impartial decision-making), it is important that they receive scrutiny. Using methodological techniques from Western Marxism, with special reference to the work of Lukács, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Marcuse to inform a critique of Acemoglu and Robinson, I argue that the historical emergence of econometrics as a mode of mediated knowledge is a reified practice within the broader technical administration of social life, a practice that is not a transparent representation of social phenomena. This is because when econometrics transforms the thing being measured into a statistical indicator it eclipses political disputes with technical disputes, sidestepping good faith democratic deliberation about what goods are worth pursuing. Effectively, one-dimensional thought cannot perceive the origins of items put into circulation and so ideology is produced – what seems value-free is value-laden.