Popular Posts

Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Chakrabortty on Economics

Aditya Chakrabortty  has another of his ill-informed rants about academic economics in today's Guardian. I don't need to defend economics, there are enough economists to do that, and it would be good if one or two would step up to the plate and give Chakrabortty the roasting he deserves. Hasn't he noticed that economists don't all agree about many fundamental issues? Krugman is different from  Fama is different from Shiller.

What they do tend to agree about is the way to do economics and that involves formal arguments (expressed in mathematics) and empirical testing with econometrics. If you don't master these tools then you can't come to the party, no matter how much Adam Smith, Karl Marx or Joseph Schumpeter you have read. There is a part of economics that is more like engineering than like social science and there is a part that isn't. But as far as I can see there is no way to make sensible judgments about the latter without learning the former. And it is not just about exclusion. What it is mainly about is maximising the chances that everyone in the discussion understands what is being talked about.

Compare this with sociology where one is never entirely sure in any discussion that everyone uses the same words in the same way. Half the time I have no idea what people are talking about. Ho hum. I suppose I should at least be grateful that, at least for the moment, Chakrabortty has ceased to exercise his ignorance on my discipline.


mart said...

But what if nobody understand them anymore because of math?

Colin said...

Isn't this a bit rhetorical? Who exactly is "nobody"? Would you call for a new type of physics because "nobody" can understand the math? There are plenty of popular science writers who do a very good job of explaining the natural sciences to a popular audience. Some natural scientists are also very good a doing this, for instance Richard Feynman (I'm thinking of his QED). There are also plenty of economists, none of whom disparage math, who do an excellent job of communicating economic ideas to a popular audience - John Kay, Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz (none, by the way, are neo liberals). Yes, math is difficult, much of it too difficult for me, but to dismiss something because it is difficult is the route back to the dark ages and magical thinking. As Krugman has recently argued, the problem is not economics, it is the influence of some economists. That is a political problem, not a mathematical problem.