September 2011

Bretton Woods, Past and Present: 3. Models in Economics

I cannot resist but to start quoting Mary Morgan's second entry to the second edition of the New Palgrave: “Modeling became the dominant methodology of economics during the 20th century.” If models were not a “recognized category in discussions about methodology” in the late 19th century, they have become central to economics after the 1930s. Models are “complex objects constructed out of many resources” that come from disparate sources and serve as measuring instruments (as argued by Marcel Boumans in his 2005 book How Economists Model the World into Numbers), and are autonomous agents that mediate theories and the real world (as argued by Mary Morgan and Margaret Morrison in their chapter to the 1999 edited volume Models as Mediators). And, returning to the Palgrave entry, models function in different ways for different purposes: Read more

Progress in Economics: A Comment

I thought I could use some of my illegitimate blog administrator's privileges to participate in the discussion on the "progress in economics" post by Floris without being lost in the midst of other users' comments. What strikes me both in the video interviews and in the related comments is how it lacks historical and sociological understanding. Of course, it strikes me because we are first and mostly a history of economics blog with a strong interest in the methodology of science studies but I do not think that this lack is solely annoying from an historian's or a sociologist's perspective. Rather, I think it is problematic on a much larger level.  Read more

Bretton Woods, Past and Present: 2. Progress in Economics

Ok, time to deal with the elephant in the room: when is one theory better than the other? What is progress in economics?

Is it not repeating the mistakes of the 1930s? Is it a more refined equilibrium concept? Lower p-values and higher t-statistics? More predictive power? Or is progress in economics simply an intuitive hunch that the present theory is better than the previous one?

If economics were a game of a few high-minded professors, the matter would have little meaning for the rest of us. But economics does profoundly influence every corner of our lives. Thus, if there’s anything students should learn in their proverbial Economics 101, it is what defines progress in economics. Read more

@Academia and Public, Berlin: Students as model publics

The transatlantic conference has been moving targets: sociology went first, then economics, then history, today it was political science and international relations. While sociologists and economists had a muscular dialogue on the first day, quickly resolved over lunch with familiar scholarly ethic. The historians closed the day, soft spoken and monorcordic reading their speeches but dropping a bomb: the global public sphere is gone, and there is no longer a past, just an extended present with everyone obsessed with personal, ethnic, identitary history but no real curiosity beyond. So it was appropriate that political scientists try something else, and abandoning the public sphere altogether the discussion today has been about the crises of the University. Read more

@Academia and Public, Berlin: And then it was all about the history...

It's not everyday that one finds economists using history as not just the right way but the only way to answer a question. History is informative, at times entertaining, but not a device for knowledge. And then it all depends on the question. In Berlin, the conversation is how to make social sciences more relevant and active in the public sphere?

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Bretton Woods, Past and Present: 1. Ethics in Economics

Our interviews in the halls of the Mount Washington Hotel, covered the range of opinion about the severity of conflicts of interest in economics: we are alright; economics is no more corrupted than other sciences; corruption is substantial; it is rotten to the core. Scholars who have working relationships, who read the same journals and newspapers, debate in seminars, chat in cocktail parties and testify to Congressional hearings, cannot agree on the status of their science. One explanation is that economists have never thought hard about conflicts of interest and the role that patrons play in knowledge production. There have been plenty of invitations to do so, but all have been rejected. Even economists writing on the economics of science, framing knowledge as an output of a production function, elide the question: if scientists are inputs, who is designing the product? Read more

A call to arms for Historians and Economists...

The Marshall Lectures often provide thought provoking talks and one talk in particular spoke to me looking at the relationship between history and economics: The speaker is a well known historian and he said exactly the right thing: Read more