Friday, June 03, 2005

Scientism in Economics

'One of the things that economics lost when it became a mathematical discipline was the ability to meet its own standards as a science.' - Alan Ebenstein (?!)

This is a quote that lingers in my head every time I read an economics paper that draws conclusions from mathematical analysis (although I love math and like to see the tabulated results personally!).

I first heard about the 'Post-Autistic Economics Movement' from my girlfriend who was presented with a copy of an article relating to it in her Econ class. The paper mentioned why economics students in three countries (France, UK, USA) are putting their professors on the defensive. The institutes referred to in the article are considered pillars of education in their respective countries and produce their future leaders. Some universities mentioned in the article where the PAE has a presence among the student body include Ecole Normale Superieure (France), Cambridge University, Oxford University (UK), Harvard University (USA) and Sydney University (Australia). It also refers to a slogan of the PAE movement in a Madrid campus that goes..'La economica es de gente, no de curves' - 'Economics is about people, not curves'.
One of the first papers I read that really highlighted the PAE movement and its growing influence was this one written in the Journal of Australian Political Economy by Edward Fullbrook.

Post-Autistic Economics (PAE) is a new, revisionist school of thought in economics that attempts to overcome the deficits in classical economics theory and teaching. Mainstream economics is branded 'autistic' due to
a. an oversimplistic world view
b. an excessive reliance on mathematics
c. a refusal to integrate with other discplines


At 7/21/2005 09:24:00 AM, Anonymous godefroy said...

The main critic we can think about neoclassical economics (and not mathematical economics) is not that it is too simple assumption, but that is irrelevant irrealistic assumptions and it quite not the same : we always have to simplify in order to make a theory, could it be in history, biology or physics. So what it is really streaking about neoclassical "autist" economy is that they put lots of asumptions very far from what most of us would intuitively think, eg, the micro modells are based on demanders and suppliers that are "pricetakers" and someone like a "planificateur" who will calculate the price. (this is actually a much better analysis of the communist planified economy than of the capitalist market !) And you have tons of exemples like that : substitution between capital and labor (if you can give one exemple other than how to milk a cow with a machine or a man...)etc... Actually, I think that the main reason for that is simply that they want so badly to use mathematics that they distort reality in order to turn it into curves.
Which is also the reason why no students will never complain : they don't understand the mathemtics so they never try to see what are the social structures and other hypotheses assumed by the model.


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