The Problem with BDM

Reihan reminds us all just how predictively powerful Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s domestic politics model of international affairs is. That said, I have my problems with the model. It very explicitly follows from assumptions that BDM willingly acknowledges to be false. BDM says he has no problem with this, and that if it produces a predictively capable model it shouldn’t matter. I disagree. The ideal IR theory would, like a theory of the physical science, be able both to predict and explain behavior. BDM’s model can sure as hell do the former; but its basis in faulty assumptions seems to severely compromise the latter.
But more distressing to me is how closed the model is. BDM’s policy forecaster is commercial and closed source; that is, the nitty gritty of its prediction isn’t available for public viewing. This has made BDM a tidy sum of money, but at the cost of wider public understanding and academic inquiry. I don’t deny that his work is valuable; it is, and he’s come closer to a complete theory of international politics than anyone else. I just wish he’d let the rest of the world completely in on it.

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