Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 08:28 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 08:28 | SYDNEY

Economic linkage


Mark Thirlwell

14 September 2010 13:08

I see Sam's post on economics as a discipline has now drawn a few responses. As I mentioned in the post that prompted Sam's, I don't find the whole 'is economics a (hard) science'' debate particularly useful. Unfortunately, that also means I'm not well-placed to respond to Sam's questions. So instead of a detailed reply, here are a few links — some recent, some not-so recent — which readers interested in the general debate might find of interest:

  • It's some years now since I read Mark Blaug's book on the methodology of economics, but from memory it did a pretty good job of examining some of the issues raised by Sam, and did so from the perspective of a critic of the discipline. IIRC, Blaug was in favour of applying falsificationism to economics, and while he argued that in practice many economists failed to live up to that standard, he also reckoned it was actually quite easy to come up with a list of economic theories had been pretty decisively refuted, ranging from the 1930s Treasury View of total crowding out through to the 1950s version of the Keynesian consumption function, the simple Phillips curve, the monetarist assumption of a stable velocity of circulation, and some of the postulates of the new classical macroeconomics, including the policy ineffectiveness proposition.
  • Last year Mark Thoma drew on these comments about why ecology is perhaps one of the 'hardest' branches of science to discuss the stimulus debate, in a piece which in parts reads quite like Sam's critique.
  • Here is Tim Harford in the FT responding to the Gideon Rachman piece I linked to in my original post.
  • This is an interesting essay from a few years back by Greg Mankiw on the evolution of macroeconomic thought and 'the economist as engineer' vs. 'the economist as scientist'. (No prizes for guessing which end of this spectrum most interests me.)
  • Here's a video of a presentation to the Institute of New Economic Thinking by the super-smart David Hendry on the role of empirical evidence (I was lucky enough to have David as one of my supervisors when I was at Oxford). Note that provocative opening proposition, viz: the problem with empirical macro is that it's been so excessively simplistic to try to keep in touch with simplistic theory that it hasn't told us anything about the real world. But David has a solution...
  • Finally, to return to the topic of my original post, this is an interesting piece by James Surowiecki arguing that, although the recent US fiscal stimulus was in fact an economic success, it has now turned into a political failure and, moreover, that some of the very same factors that contributed to the former may also have contributed to the latter.