Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Call for More Scholars and Less Scientists in the Economics Profession

Mario Rizzo has a post up stating that there are too many "scientists" and not enough scholars. He writes:
 The scholar knows well the history of the discipline. He is also familiar with the major issues of the philosophy of science as applied to his discipline. More specifically, with respect to economics, he knows the difference between interesting economics questions and perhaps-interesting mathematical questions. He also knows how to interpret theories, that is, how to get to their (potential or actual) relevance to the real world after penetrating the mathematics and the general formalisms that frame their presentation.

So, in the past few weeks, I have been seeing abstracts of NYU doctoral dissertations. Very few, if any, scholars here; a lot of would-be scientists. I ask myself, “What is the point of all this stuff?”...

If I were trying to rationalize the public-goods quality of what goes for economic theory or even applied economics at most top schools (Chicago excepted), I would be at a loss.

‘Tis a pity. Economics used to be, can be, and sometimes is about really interesting and important things. Can it be so again? We need more scholars.
Rizzo is being too kind. The many so-called "scientists", who throw mathematical equations around, are a bunch of wackos with an inferiority complex.

I have talked to my fair share of these types and you can generally puncture their theories within five minutes of questioning them.

Their equations are not based in reality. A bunch of them work for government because government can count on them to justify with equations almost any nonsense, starting with the theory that government spending boosts the economy. Why these yahoos fail to understand that government spending means less spending in the private sector is a fascinating question. There is no logical reason for this belief. It can only be understood from a psychological perspective. Some don't have the balls to stand up and speak truth, even if they know it. Some know the truth but keep their mouth shut for fear of disrupting their gravy train they and their equations are on. And some are just clueless sheep who follow leaders.

These confused people deserve to be called out every time they write a paper who make an absurd statement for the benefit of the media.


  1. My school has weekly or bi-weekly seminars held by one of these scientists, most of which are uninteresting (and the profs themselves admit this).

    I politely sat through one that talked about 'optimal levels of IP legislation for retaining workers' and had all sorts of equations and charts and cited Boldrin and Levine quite heavily. At the end, I asked her what would become of her models if B&L's recent proposal of abolishment of IP were to be found true.

    She looked like a deer in headlights. Not only had she never heard of either the many papers or the book they published on getting rid of IP, but she seemed to be totally unaware that such an argument even existed. After stuttering for a few minutes she admitted she didn't know.

    I haven't been to another one of these seminars yet.

  2. In my own forays into economics, I've always gravitated away from the scientific approach and been attracted to, I guess what would be called the scholarly version. Sound economics tends to boil down to common sense - so simple that children can understand it when appropriately explained.

    The fact is, government needs the incomprehensible to justify absurd fiscal practices that expand control.