Two footnotes

by Henry on June 1, 2007

to Methodenstreit: The Extended Blogospheric Remix. First, as a few commenters here and there have noted, Herb Gintis’s review of a Post-Autistic Economics reader has disappeared from Amazon. I’ve been in contact with Gintis, who not only didn’t take it down himself, but is rather annoyed at its disappearance. I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it below the fold for the sake of posterity. Second, I see that an “Econ prof” claims in correspondence with Ezra Klein that “Aklerlof, Stiglitz, etc. all got published very easily.” For Akerlof at least, this isn’t true.

I received my first rejection letter from The American Economic Review. The editor explained that the Review did not publish papers on subjects of such triviality. In a case, perhaps, of life reproducing art, no referee reports were included. … again rejected on the grounds that the The Review [i.e. The Review of Economic Studies – hf] did not publish papers on topics of such triviality. … The next rejection was more interesting. I sent “Lemons” to the Journal of Political Economy, which sent me two referee reports, carefully argued as to why I was incorrect. After all, eggs of different grades were sorted and sold (I do not believe that this is just my memory confusing it with my original perception of the egg-grader model), as were other agricultural commodities. If this paper was correct, then no goods could be traded (an exaggeration of the claims of the paper). Besides — and this was the killer — if this paper was correct, economics would be different. I may have despaired, but I did not give up. I sent the paper off to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, where it was accepted. I had had such a hard time getting this article published, that I was quite surprised, on a trip to England in the fall of 1973, to discover that, not only had it been read, but even with considerable enthusiasm.

Herbert Gintis – Review of A Guide to What’s Wrong with Economics by Edward Fullbrook.

In June 2000, several Parisian economics students circulated a petition calling for the reform of their economics curriculum. Their complaint was the inability of the neoclassical economics they were studying to satisfy their need for a deep understanding of the operation of real-life economies. They called for a reform of the university curriculum that would tolerate analytical diversity and foster critical dialogue across contrasting approaches to economics. Their demand was taken up by large numbers of students, and a similar demand was formulated by Ph.D. students at Cambridge University in the UK the next year. This reform movement has grown in Europe, under the rubric of “post-autistic economics.” This volume presents their case, but with voices of professional economists rather than students.

My interest in this book and this movement stems from my life-long battle against neoclassical orthodoxy. My conclusion from reading this edited volume is that the post-autistic economics critique is incapable of leading to positive change in how economics is done and taught. The central critique is that neoclassical economics does not describe real-world economies, and must be replaced by or supplemented with other approaches. This is just wrong. While the elementary courses are far from the real world, advanced courses in such areas as labor, international finance, macroeconomic policy, economic development, law and economics, environmental economics, and so on, are quite real-world. If an undergraduate students left with a degree in economics that allowed them to understand The Economist and the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the level of economic awareness in the world would be considerably higher. If the undergraduate curriculum does not bring students to this level, the curriculum is, to my mind, faulty. Perhaps less stress on arcane theories that are relevant only to professional economists should be replaced by a more historical, institutional, and hands-on approach to microeconomic and macroeconomic issues. But, this is a critique of pedagogy, not of economic theory.

Neoclassical theory has displaced other approaches around the world because it is currently the only promising approach to economics. Marxism, Keynesianism, Institutionalism, Syndicalism, Austrian economics, and the like developed strongly for a while and then foundered. They certainly do not present analytically interesting alternatives to neoclassical economics. It is not an accident that all over the world, including India, Japan, China, and many countries in Latin America, the reform of higher education has involved the introduction of modern neoclassical economic theory. With all its flaws, it is the only credible starting point for serious economic analysis.

Neoclassical economics has profound problems, but they can only be addressed from within, not by embracing any “heterodox” alternative that I know of. The pleas for democracy, toleration, and pluralism by the “heterodox” is simply an admission that they can’t win the intellectual battle by having better theories, only by having more troups.

Perhaps more damning, the authors seem completely unaware of contemporary economic theoretical research, which addresses many of the serious problems with neoclassical theory. There is a short piece on behavioral economics, which has been one of the most vibrant areas in economics over the past 25 years, but the author assumes that behavioral economics is an alternative to neoclassical economics. Rather, it is a complement to economic theory and a source of empirical data that can be used to generate better models. Behavioral economics uses decision theory and game theory to critique the Homo economicus of traditional economic theory, but the profession is responding by revising Homo economicus, not by rejecting behavioral economics (see recent papers in Econometrica, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and other journals).

Post-autistic economics ignores the innovative work of Ernst Fehr, Abijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Colin Camerer, Samuel Bowles, George Loewenstein, Daniel Kahneman, Benoit Mandelbrot, Edward Glaeser, David Laibson, Matthew Rabin, Bruno Frey, Elinor Ostrom, Armin Falk, Simon Gaechter, Jean Tirole, Aldo Rustichini, and many others. It ignores neuroeconomics, econophysics, and the notion of the economy as a complex system, with its stress on agent-based modeling. These researchers transform analytical economics to meet the empirical challenges posed by new data. Unlike leaders of the post-autistic school, they do not urge a retreat to philosophy or some some defunct 20th century doctrine.

The papers in this book are generally present no challenge for the professional economist. Many are just superficial, and some are egregiously incorrect. Perhaps the most bizarre is the paper by Bernard Guerrien, “Can We Expect Anything From Game Theory?” Guerrien asserts, without evidence, that “game theory models are always `stories’, like fables or parables, with no relation to real-life situations.” Really? What about auction theory, which has been so successful in organizing the sale of bandwidth in many countries? How does one explain the role of game theory in revolutionizing Industrial Organization? Moreover, game theory is the basis for all of behavioral economics, and accounts for its experimental success in large part. Guerrien’s description of game theory is quite faulty. “…players are supposed to choose separately and simultaneously one element of their strategy set…”, says Guerrien, and launches a broad critique on that basis. But, he is just wrong. Evidently he never heard of extensive form games or behavioral strategies. In short, the intellectual level of this critique is low.

Neoclassical economics is a flawed doctrine that deserves to be treated with continual hostility—-but hostility from within. New and better theories must be capable of convincing young economists with no preconceived notions or special political pleading of the superiority of the new over the old. Taking to the streets with petitions is useful if it stirs up research activity, but not otherwise.

Contemporary economic theory is deep and challenging, It has some of the answers, and will aid in the development of other areas in which its answers are inadequate. For instance, in perhaps the best piece in the book, Geoffrey M. Hodgson asks “Can Economics Start from the Individual Alone?” He argues persuasively that it cannot. However, traditional institutional economics is hardly the remedy. Rather, I suspect that a fundamental theorem of Robert Aumann on the relationship between correlated equilibrium and Bayesian rationality is the key to transcending neoclassical economics’ methodological individualism. But, the post-autistic people who contributed to this book probably do not know or do not understand Robert Aumann’s contributions. A pity.

{ 31 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 06.01.07 at 1:42 pm

Re Akerlof, I believe (though of course I’m open to correction on this) that he was denied tenure as an Asst Prof, too.

2

stostosto 06.01.07 at 2:11 pm

That’s interesting about Akerlof, I didn’t know that. When I studied (mainstream) economics, he was taught and treated with considerable respect, as was Stiglitz. No hint of them being in anyway controversial or out of the mainstream. This was 1985ish. Copenhagen, Denmark.

3

otto 06.01.07 at 2:33 pm

Henry, can you tell us what you learned in your undergrad degree in economics, and how you would like to see that improved?

4

Henry 06.01.07 at 2:44 pm

Otto – in undergrad, I did a fairly standard micro/macro combination, working up to a reasonably advanced level. The advanced macro was with Peter Neary, a pretty well known neo-Keynesian, but it stuck much less with me than the micro, which has turned out to be much more relevant as a way of thinking to the kinds of stuff that I study (specific forms of interaction in market-type situations). What I didn’t get any of, and what I would have benefitted from immensely was game theory – it wasn’t an option at my undergrad institution, and most of what I have I got from my own reading, and from a Ph.D. level econ course with Ramon Marival that I took when I was at the EUI. Broader thinking about what game theory _means_ I owe to Jim Johnson’s course at ICPSR (which really was the place that I first began to put my own research agenda together with the tools that I could use to carry it out). Ideally, I would like to see undergrad econ courses having a compulsory game theory course, perhaps in the second year, which would stress the non-cooperative stuff and its implications for economic life. I would also like my own education to have had rather more about where von Neumann-Morgenstern utility functions actually come from – this is pretty helpful in understanding a lot of the strengths and limitations of modern forms of economic analysis.

5

Chris Edmond 06.01.07 at 3:07 pm

Re Akerlof’s publication troubles:

On the other hand, Bob Lucas’s hugely influential 1972 JET “rational expectations” paper was rejected out of hand by the AER (if memory serves) too. So perhaps Akerlof’s experience merely reflects the troubles that all kinds of people have publishing stuff that doesn’t quite fit with the prevailing research trends.

With a bit of hindsight, both Akerlof and Lucas’s papers seem quite neoclassical (in the sense that the term is used in the profession: individual optimization, equilibrium, etc) even if this wasn’t so clear to referees in the early 1970s.

6

Yarrow 06.01.07 at 4:52 pm

I have a question. Following the Akerlof link, I found this:
Denison used the differential in earnings of those with different schooling as a basis for estimating how changes in education would affect productivity. But, as he acknowledged, his estimates were invariably polluted, since those with more schooling also on the average had greater

and at that point my browser inserted a line break. It’s presumably a symptom of my anarchism that I assumed the next line would contain an acknowledgment that those with more schooling on average had greater privilege and higher birth class, so I was surprised to read that they had greater natural ability, which would also contribute to their earnings.

Now clearly this incident exposes my biases as well as Akerlof’s; but it seems to me that questions of how social privilege confounds economic models must be one of considerable interest. How do economists address it? Do economists address it?

7

conchis 06.01.07 at 5:08 pm

yarrow,

It’s possible that the reason the education-privilege linkage wasn’t mentioned is not because of a lack cognizance that the two go together, but because the former is being viewed as a part of the latter that’s amenable to change.

Of course, it’s still possible that education to have higher returns for those from more privileged backgrounds, and I’m not sure anyone’s directly addressed this, but I suspect that many of the ways economists try to account for ability bias would, if they worked, also get around issues of privilege bias (instrumenting with parental education for example, or trying to finding natural experiments).

8

mondo dentro 06.01.07 at 5:25 pm

I’m just a math/physics guy whose understanding of economics is only that of a reasonably well-roundedly educated citizen of a democratic republic. I’ve been reading the heterodoxy discussion here and elsewhere with much interest.

To throw down one marker, I found John Quiggin’s critique of “heterodoxy as doxy” persuasive, In particular, this passage:

[The champions of heterodoxy] employ the simplest possible version of the neoclassical model, which leads to the conclusion that the optimal policy is one in which governments do nothing… Sometimes this is because they don’t know anything more than the simple model, and sometimes it’s on the basis of more sophisticated counterarguments…

The fetishization of heterodoxy as a good in itself certainly does not provide a valid critique of a scientific status quo. Indeed, if one were to change the subject of the above passage from neoclassical economics to evolution theory, one would be describing the intelligent designer’s heterodox critique of natural selection that most of the readers here, I assume, find totally lacking in validity.

On the other hand, I’ve always had a big problem with economic theory as I experience it as a member of the polity, and from my perspective as a mathematical scientist, and it’s not a problem that I’m seeing addressed.

The problem concerns the ontological status of economic theory. Us lay people generally hear “experts” refer to “the laws of economics”, as if they have the same status as, say, the Navier-Stokes equations or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It seems to me that they do not: economic systems are human constructs that are in many ways more like technological systems than physical systems. The assumptions underlying them, such as cost functions, network topology, degree of centralization, degree of open loop vs. closed loop design, etc. can all be changed. Yet, in economic discussions we lay people have to suffer with those who constantly tell us that, say, this or that health care program “goes against the laws of economics”.

One particularly egregious type of error that it seems is made be even sophisticated economic thinkers involves arguments based on some sort of optimality condition: conclusions that draw from any optimality argument are completely contingent on the cost function used, and the cost functions of economics are entirely, it seems to me, a human construct. Unlike in physics, where, say, the action integral must be extremized to yield the true motion of a system, the idea that profits or economic growth or what-have-you must be optimized at the expense of, say, a wide-spread sense of happiness or meaningfulness of employment is simply without basis.

So, the problem that I see is that in economics, at least at the social/political level that most of us citizens experience it, there is not sufficient clarity about which parts of it are formally necessary (and therefore are truly “Laws of Economics”), and which parts of it are utterly contingent and therefore completely open to the action of the collective will.

Sorry for being so long-winded. But I’d really appreciate it if an expert could weigh in on this issue of the ontological claims made by various aspects of economic theory that we are regularly confronted with.

9

marcel 06.01.07 at 6:08 pm

Mondo Dentro: Your bracketed version of Quiggins’ quote gets it exactly backwards.

Quiggin wrote, “Of course, a lot of economists, maybe a majority (though this isn’t as clear as you might think) don’t use mainstream economics this way. Rather they”.

The majority of economists are orthodox (i.e., mainstream). The point of this line is that just because they use mainstream economics in (pick one) a sloppy, careless, simpleminded way, reflects not on the theory and analytical tools but on these mainstream economists.

In the next paragraph, he continues, “By attacking the logical foundations of this simple model, heterodox economists may undermine faith in the policy conclusions derived from it. But this doesn’t get you very far. Even if you regard economic arguments for laissez-faire as worthless, this does not establish any positive case for alternative policies.

I think that supports my interpretation rather than yours.

10

mondo dentro 06.01.07 at 6:42 pm

Marcel, I think my interpretation is the same as yours!

The majority of biologists believe in Darwinian natural selection. Just because some of them might use the ideas of evolution theory in “a sloppy, careless, simpleminded way, reflects not on the theory and analytical tools but on these mainstream” biologists. It in no way supports the “heterodox” theories of Intelligent Design.

11

bi 06.01.07 at 8:28 pm

Certainly though, biological systems aren’t as human construed as economic systems.

12

terence 06.01.07 at 8:52 pm

…to further what mondo dentro said. Underlying the ‘laws’ of economics are assumptions* about human nature (when economics is acting as a positive social science) and value judgments (when it is being normative).

It seems to me that in the dark old days of rational expectations and public choice the assumptions about human nature were highly questionable. I guess this has changed considerably now in the academy; not so much in policy debates though.

With regards to the value judgments, if you read Sen or Layard or someone like that, you see considerable attention being paid to the interface between economics and political philosophy, yet when you read many other economists, little thought appears to have gone into “what is good” questions. Things are a little different when you get to the realms of public policy but it still often feels like something is lacking.

__________________________________________________
* always assumptions until our knowledge of psychology has become complete

13

Martin James 06.01.07 at 8:55 pm

Mondo,

Strictly speaking if its a formal law then it wouldn’t be possible not to conform to it.

The problem is that no discipline has a well-developed theory of the causes of human constructs.

You (like the rest of us) make comparisons to science and then go on to use terms like “collective will” and “human construct” together with “contingent” in such a way that it seems to contradict the theory that human actions are subject to a causal law that could be discovered by science.

Similarly, the trouble with so many economists is that “they don’t do preferences”; they are too often taken as givens in the theory and not what is to be explained.

14

bob mcmanus 06.01.07 at 9:02 pm

Flatlining GDP & NFP…Barry Rittholz at his blog. The comment section is a must read.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. BLS statistics, the Stock Market, the economy, personal careers and fortunes, the rise & fall of nations, the four horsemen or shining city on a hill.

3/4 of the commenters think the BLS numbers & modeling may be incompetent/manipulated/contain bad premises/whatever. Very few can make sense of what may or may not be happening in the economy. Are we in recession? In a boom?

1/4 say look the Stock market has hit new highs! Buy! Buy! Buy!

This is modern economics, and this is what every economist is responsible for. If the data can’t be trusted and the models are garbage, then tell people so they don’t gamble their pensions and kids college funds with them.

15

bob mcmanus 06.01.07 at 9:19 pm

I mean Jesus, folks, Russia in the nineties, two bubbles, massive tax cuts, Krugman realizing displacements in trade may be a smigden more than he thought…How much do you get right? As opposed to a random walk or dart throw?

And if it is a science why do the few & proud who do have it right not get listened to? It isn’t global warming, we have had markets & economies for quite a while now.

16

Cian 06.01.07 at 9:34 pm

#13 Yeah, but few disciplines have as poorly developed theory of the causes of human constructs as economics. This is supposed to be changing with behavioural economics. Well that’s’ the theory…

17

Martin James 06.01.07 at 10:30 pm

Cian, you really think so?

A thought experiment: Take a changing human construct at large and then compare the causal explanation offered by psychology, sociology, economics, political science, history, philosophy, law, literature and education and then rank the explanation in in terms of well-developedness. Does economics really come out at the bottom? What order would you put them in and what are your paradigmatic constructs?

I think they all suck pretty bad but for the effort expended I think I’d probably put psychology and education at the bottom of the list?

I mean try to find a coherent model of the best way to educate someone. What do all those people with degrees in psychology and education really know about the causes of human constructs?

18

wood turtle 06.02.07 at 4:29 pm

The Akerlof link is very informative. You did not mention that this particular work was part of the reason he won the Nobel prize. It shows how much of a struggle it must be to publish anything in economics if it is anywhere not close to the norm of economic thought.

I imagine that his troubles are over, now that he has that distinguished prize, and can publish whatever he wants in any economic journal whatsoever.

19

Cian O'Connor 06.02.07 at 7:46 pm

Martin,
Yeah you’re right, psychologists know nothing about human beings. Can’t be bothered to respond to somebody whose viewpoint on various disciplines is based upon little more than prejudice.

And education (as you’ve defined it) is a practical discipline. You’re comparing oranges to apples. Its like saying that we know nothing about astrophysics, because we don’t know how to get a manned space mission to Mars. A silly comparison.

20

daelm 06.02.07 at 11:44 pm

i’m not an economist, merely a consumer of others’ ideas, so i tend not to read these posts with much interest, but (and i’m sure someone has already covered this somewhere) isn’t the description ‘post-autistic’ a fairly unpleasant choice of phrase? i’m autistic, though high functional, and i find it as acceptable as if someone had approvingly described newly capitalist African countries as ‘post-black’.

in fact, being prepared to blithely ascribe stereotypically derogatory traits to a group of strangers, with neither awareness of nor interest in likely affront is exactly the kind of myopic self-satisfaction and self-absorption that the creator of the phrase had obviously hoped to catch.

i really do find offensive that someone thought that the kind of heartless, insular contempt for others that much economics gives the impression of, is best described as autistic. only someone who knew nothing of autism could come up with this phrase. and only someone who didn’t care to learn could then popularize it.

back to topic.

21

Rod 06.03.07 at 2:08 am

I have an advanced training in economics at a major university. My problem is not with the method of economics (although it does have its limits). My problem is with the triviality of most economic theory. (Applied economics is sometimes exempt from this criticism. Although there are problems there as well). Mathematical expression is piled upon mathematical expression to no effect other than to impress other economists on the cleverness of the author. But, when it is done we understand nothing any better than we did before.

Read the history of twentieth century economics. Enormous effort is made to work out problems that arise in the course of doing economic theory until the whole edifice collapses. What has happened to general equilibrium theory in the past 20 years?

And since economics is by nature a political science, much economic theory is nothing but clever attempts at justifying the author’s prior beliefs.

22

stick 06.03.07 at 3:58 am

Why do all such discussions as these inevitably turn to which discipline provides the best theoretical models?

All social theory attempts to engage a dynamic, self-changing totality. Why should we expect that any one discipline examining one specific mode of human activity would have epistemic agency? It seems as though an inter-disciplinary approach would be far more appropriate for all of the social sciences… economics included.

Also, I’d love to hear a response to mondo dentro’s ontological question… From where I’m sitting, neo-classical theory is little different from classical Marxism in that regard. They both lend themselves to dogmatism.

23

Hidari 06.03.07 at 2:16 pm

This is from the previous thread but seems to be relevant here:

‘It strikes me more and more that philosophy is only a way to think about ideas as concrete and atemporal. One of the commenters at Marginal Revolution (who may or may not be an idiot depending on whether he means it as a compliment of a criticism) put it this way:

The heterodox approach is largely ignored by mainstream economics (re: neoclassical) because most of the insights are situation-dependent—that is, critical insights from the heterodox school lack the generality upon which neoclassical economics is based on. Most economists cannot and will not tolerate ad hoc explanations to human behaviour. One reason is because the math breaks down, and becomes mostly irrelevant.

How many areas of study that delve into the record of human history and behavior deal in or rely upon insights that are not context dependent?’.

This, it would seem to me, is the solution to the ‘Mondo Dentro’ question asked above. The laws of physics, apparently are NOT context dependent (although Cf Nancy Cartwright’s work). But the laws of economics, regardless of their ‘objectivity’ or whatever, ARE, it seems, context dependent. This is the big difference. And neo-classical economics devotes huge amounts of time and energy to denying this (or at the very least, positing it as a highly undesirable state of affairs. ‘Well we know there are no context free laws of economics. But wouldn’t it be great if there were? In fact, let’s pretend there are, and then…..’).

The reason i mention this is that it essentially the point of the Hodgson book that I quoted from in earlier that no one picked up on.

In the highly unlikely scenario that anyone is interested, I have a book coming out in September that discusses these issues in relating to psychology. Again, the basic issue is the ontological status of the ‘laws’ of psychology, and their context specific/context free nature.

24

Hidari 06.03.07 at 2:19 pm

Mondo Dentro and stick…you may want to read

‘How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Historical Specificity in Social Science’ by Geoffrey Hodgson, as it deals specifically with the issue of the ontological nature of the ‘laws’ of economics, and the extent to which they are context free (or not). (Hodgson calls this the issue of Historical Specificity).

25

return of the repressed 06.03.07 at 5:09 pm

My, what short memories “economists” have! It is amazing to me that Gintis consistently manages to get away with this kind of stuff. He’s the Dick Morris of econ. Thanks for saving for posterity Henry!

26

stick 06.04.07 at 12:26 am

hidari-

Thanks for the heads up! I’d be interested in what you have to say about the ‘laws of psychology’ as well.

Title yet…?

27

John Emerson 06.04.07 at 12:23 pm

Daelm, the group seems to be moving toward the label “PAE” for that reason. After the original inspiration, the name they chose didn’t look so good.

28

Hidari 06.04.07 at 12:32 pm

Working title: The Mind, the Body and the World. Imprint Academic. Due to be published later on this year (September, hopefully).

Incidentally if you are genuinely interested in these issues you may want to check out Nancy Cartwright’s The Dappled World, which takes a VERY strong (and controversial) position, which is that ALL ‘laws’ of science, not just in the social sciences are true only ‘ceteris paribus’ (i.e. they are ALL context specific).

I don’t know whether you have heard of him, but a philosopher with the rather splendid name of Bastiaan Cornelis van Fraassen has also argued (in his book Laws and Symmetry) that not just the Laws of Science, but the actual Laws of Nature themselves do not ‘exist’ in any meaningful sense, but are, instead, human created abstractions from real empirical phenomena (van Fraassen is no post-modernist: he believes in a mind-independent world, and the worth of experiments, it’s only when ‘we’ start to abstract ‘laws’ from these experiments that he starts to have doubts).

Of course all this has rather strong implications for the science of economics if its primary aim (to create mathematical, non-context specific laws of economic behaviour) is fundamentally misconceived from the start.

29

TVeb 06.05.07 at 8:29 pm

“Guerrien asserts, without evidence, that “game theory models are always `stories’, like fables or parables, with no relation to real-life situations.”

Ariel Rubinstein has said almost exactly the same thing in his 2004 presidential address to the econometric society (I wonder what Gintis thinks about that); and as people have pointed out both Van Fraasen and (to a certain extent) Nancy Cartwright have made similar arguments. Cartwright has pointed out that all social science modeling involves the creation of “socio-economic” machines (when applied to the physical sciences she calls them “nomological machines”). But Cartwright differs in important respects from Van Fraasen in that she considers such socio-economic machines literally “real” (while Van Fraasen is an anti-realist about scientific theories). However Cartwright, being a good empiricist(albeit a realist one) like Van Fraasen , considers their empirical implications to be crucial. More germane to this discussion, Rubinstein sounds more like Van Fraasen than Cartwright but perhaps more crucially goes against both in stating that economic models are not meant to be testable. To quote him:

“As economic theorists we organize our thoughts using what we call ‘models’ . The word ‘model’ sounds more scientific than ‘fable’ or ‘fairy tale’ but I don’t see much difference between them……like in the case of fables models in economic theory are derived from observations of the world but they are not meant to be testable . Like in case of fables a good fable and a good model can have enormous influence in the real world, not by providing advice or by predicting the future, but rather by influencing the culture, that is, the collection of conventions and ideas that people believe in and which influence the way they reason and act.”

So from both the Cartwright and Van Fraasen perspective, (Rubinstein’s view of) economics would not be considered a science. Therefore I think Gintis’s scorn is misplaced…he should read more philosophy.

30

tveb 06.05.07 at 9:29 pm

To add to what hidari says above, Bas Van Fraassen is an old fashioned Humean skeptic. He thinks that beliefs should be rational, but scorns all metaphysics. Hence his opposition to “laws”, which have significant ontological/metaphysical baggage. As an aside, I think that his argument though fascinating, is, in the end, incorrect (I am rather partial to Cartwright’s take on this issue). I think the neurosciences are beginning to discover that ontology may be a property of the human brain. And this might turn out to be true even of scientific activities. Otherwise lots of human capacities become incomprehensible (Chomsky’s famous argument about Plato’s problem, i.e. how do humans know so much given the meager data they are exposed to?).

31

test 06.06.07 at 3:48 am

The model ensures the fable hangs together – that is what the analysis does; it it internally consistent? No more, no less!Math is good because it provides rules for checking consistency-a recipe, if you will.

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