War over mathiness in economics..

It is not always you see likes of Prof. Paul Romer criticise economists and that too likes of Lucas and Prescott. The criticism is for their over the top mathisation of economics.

Noah Smith, Justin Fox and Mark Buchanan chip in.

Buchanan says:

Once upon a time economists made their arguments in long, discursive, often contradictory books about pin factories andnewspaper beauty contests. Verbally oriented people like me tend to extol those days, but to most modern economists they were the dark ages.

In the 1940s Paul Samuelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology brought enlightenment, in the form of elegant mathematical treatments of the major concepts in economics. Most of these ideas were inherently mathematical anyway, he argued in the introduction to his “Foundations of Economic Analysis,” first published in 1947, which meant that trying to express them in narrative form involved “mental gymnastics of a peculiarly depraved type.”

Samuelson’s approach gave the discipline a, well, discipline that it had previously lacked, and enabled economics to make great leaps in coherence and rigor. It also made the field incomprehensible to laypeople, but that turned out to be more a feature than a bug. Economists were seen as possessing unique scientific knowledge, and came to play increasingly prominent roles in public life in the U.S. and elsewhere. Samuelson’s economics-professor nephew even became Treasury secretary.

There are some obvious limits to this approach. In his entertaining and enlightening new book, “Misbehaving,” University of Chicago behavioral economist Richard Thaler documents case after case of “theory-induced blindness” in which economists ignored interesting and important real-world phenomena because they didn’t accord with the dominant mathematical models. Since the financial crisis, the conviction that macroeconomics in particular has reached a sort of theoretical dead-end has gained ground even among mainstream economists.

That’s not what Paul Romer is arguing, though. In a provocative paper presented in January at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association and just published in the American Economic Review, plus a series of combative blog posts, the New York University professor and famed economic theorist complains that some of his fellow economists have been resorting to what he calls “mathiness.” This is a variant of comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” and means that they are using mathematical models not to elucidate or investigate but basically just to assert. Samuelson and others of his generation believed that mathematical reasoning would clarify economists’ arguments.

Well, nothing is new except for the fact that it is Romer who in an elegant AER paper (has a bit of math) questions the math methods adopted by stalwarts to showcase their supremacy over others. What is worse is that Romer actually points to mistakes in one of their papers which ends up being published in an top econ journal.

The problem is not limited to extensive and intensive use of math. It is just ensuring other areas like history and politics do not matter anymore. Most economics courses around the world are designed as suggested by these priests and are taught unchallenged by their several direct and indirect students across the world. So it is the same neoclassical school which is not even relevant in developed world is taught in schools across Asia and Africa.

I mean how preposterous can things get in economics teaching. We in other countries are part of the blame as we have just accepted whatever is being taught in these schools and taken it to be Bible.

Anyways, this is how things shall remain in economics . When the entire purpose of humankind has shifted from basic humanity to pursuing wealth at all costs nothing much can be done. This is then added to the strong belief that it is economics and economists which can help the society in that pursuit, things only become crazier and are expected to remain..


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