Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Defending economists -- from themselves


I am on occasion a fairly harsh critic of modern economics, for many reasons. I think economists use the concept of efficiency in a slapdash manner. I think they make a fetish of rigorous mathematics even when they gain no insight from it; it's too often imported as a tool to impress others, rather than as a legitimate means to understanding (see the absurd Appendices of this paper, for example, proving various irrelevant theorems about Markov processes). I think economists (most of them) don't make use of enough modern mathematics from dynamical systems theory.

I also think economists often infect their social analysis with their own subjective values, even while mistakenly and dangerously believing otherwise (as a result of their training). I think the modelling assumption of rational expectations, for agents dealing with anything but the simplest environments, is just a silly idea. I would go so far as to say that I think many economists don't appreciate basic elements of scientific method, preferring the logical beauty (?) of deductive theories to empirically relevant ones. Etc. Read almost anything I've written on this blog for similarly critical opinions.

But I do, just the same, also think there's lots of good and useful economics, some of it even beautiful. And I think economists themselves should do a better job standing up for it. Some very prominent and well known economists are giving the field a bad name. Let me explain.

Read the whole thing at Medium.

10 comments:

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  2. Medium Tedium: just wondering what exactly is the point in posting a couple of paragraphs on your blog before redirecting readers to Medium? Linking to a Bloomberg article is one thing, but for a regular post it's not clear why you can't just post the whole thing here on your blog? The extra level of indirection seems like a needless irratation! (Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells)

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  3. "I think [economists] make a fetish of rigorous mathematics even when they gain no insight from it..."

    A pertinent quote from Andrew Lang:
    "Politicians use statistics in the same way that a drunk uses lamp-posts—for support rather than illumination."

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