Monday, July 28, 2008

This Is Seriously Messed Up.....

I saw this via both Mark Thoma and Jeff Tucker. Tucker's main problem with the article appears to be its policy views, but my main problem is actually with this part (although I agree that the policy part had flaws too):

"Though economics as a discipline arose in Great Britain and France at the end of the eighteenth century, it has taken two centuries to reach the threshold of scientific rationality. Previously, intuition, opinion, and conviction enjoyed equal status in economic thought; theories were vague, often unverifiable. Not so long ago, one could teach economics at prestigious universities without using equations and certainly without the complex algorithms, precise (though not infallible) mathematical models, and computers integral to the field today.

No wonder bad economic policies ravaged entire nations during the twentieth century, producing more victims than any epidemic did."

I've commented mathematical formalism in economics before (see here and here).
I will here aside from linking to these posts only add that mathematical formalism does not prevent bad ideas. You can express any theory, including communist ones, as a bunch of Greek letters and then differentiate them and pretend that this operation have somehow made it scientific. Far from stopping bad theories, mathematical formalism will help advance them because they will distract from the actual issue at hand by instead focusing on series of differentiated Greek letters.


Anonymous newson said...

sadly, the mathematization of economics has also distanced ordinary folks from broaching the topic.

people of good sense are thus disenfranchised from the macroeconomic debate, and we're left with the battle of the models.

mind you, i often think people want to see a lot of complex equations, it helps them rationalize why economists often earn great salaries whilst performing incomprehensible tasks.

like the witch-doctor of yore, without the incantations and spells, you're just another of the tribe.

5:19 PM  

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