The difference between normative and positive statements - FreeEconHelp.com, Learning Economics... Solved!

7/14/18

The difference between normative and positive statements


The difference between positive and normative statements is something that every person should be able to understand. Generally, we already intuitively know the difference between a fact and an opinion but sometimes the difference can be a little nuanced so it is good to apply technical terms to the different types of statements which is why it is  useful to know how to recognize the difference between normative and positive statements. First, normative statements are generally opinion or belief based... you may think of a normative statement as something that someone thinks should be normal or standard across society. Alternatively, a positive statement is a statement of "what is" and is generally a statement that can be determined to either be true or false. A trick to remember that a positive statement is testable is to think of a blood test for a disease, it generally either comes back positive or negative.

The rest of this post will go over several statements to practice how to recognize the differences between these example normative and positive statements in the real world.


1. August is the hottest month of the year.

This is a positive statement because it can be tested, we can find available data on temperatures throughout the different months of the year and then compare the average highs or means to see which is really the hottest month. A normative statement would be more opinion based and probably say something similar to "I think August is the hottest month" or "August is so hot I think I am going to die".

2. The most popular animal in the world is a rabbit.

This is a normative statement because it is an opinion or belief that cannot be tested. Unfortunately, there is no standard way to measure popularity. However, we could make this into a positive statement by saying that rabbits are the most common pet in Europe, or that rabbits represent the most purchased picture from ebay.

3. A Universal basic income is required for a society to be just.

This is a normative statement because it cannot be tested and is a belief. We don't know what metric should be used to figure out what is just or not, but we could test a similar statement that measured average GDP per capita or something similar (eg. countries with a universal basic income tend to have higher GDPs per capita than those without).

4. Food is a basic human right.
Is food a human right?

Again, this is a normative statement. It is something that people believe should be rather than a statement of something that is, however we could slightly change the wording to make it a positive statement.

5. France treats food as a basic human right.

This is a positive statement because we can easily look up how France regards human rights and food to see whether this is in fact true or not.

6. It is raining.

This is a positive statement and not a normative statement because it is testable and is not an opinion, we can see whether or not it is raining and generally this fact is not open for debate. However...

7. It is raining too much.

This is a normative statement because we don't really know what too much is. It is an opinion or belief that cannot be tested with any sort of accuracy. We just have to do our best to understand that person making the statement as to whether or not there is in fact too much rain.

8. The rich should pay their fair share of taxes.

This is a normative statement because it is an opinion.

9. Tax cuts for the rich tend to trickle down and help poor people.

This is a tricky one but is in fact a positive statement because we can test it. However, most empirical tests of this statement have found it to be false or somewhat true at best. The reason is that the world doesn't occur in a vacuum and it is hard to isolate exactly why poor people end up better off or not.

10. Minimum wage hurts job prospects for the unskilled and youth.

This is a positive statement, we can test it with data to see whether it is true or not.

You can see from the previous examples that the main difference between positive and normative statements is whether o not the statement is an opinion or a statement of what is. If the statement is a hypothesis that can be tested it will be a positive statement but if it is an opinion or belief that can't be legitimately tested then it will be normative.

The easiest way for me to remember the difference is that normative statements stress what should be normal while positive statements can be tested to figure out whether they are true (positive) or false (negative).

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