Home > The Economics Profession > Chicago economics –only for Gods and idiots

Chicago economics –only for Gods and idiots

from Lars Syll

If I ask myself what I could legitimately assume a person to have rational expectations about, the technical answer would be, beat2I think, about the realization of a stationary stochastic process, such as the outcome of the toss of a coin or anything that can be modeled as the outcome of a random process that is stationary. I don’t think that the economic implications of the outbreak of World war II were regarded by most people as the realization of a stationary stochastic process. In that case, the concept of rational expectations does not make any sense. Similarly, the major innovations cannot be thought of as the outcome of a random process. In that case the probability calculus does not apply.

Robert Solow

‘Modern’ macroeconomic theories are as a rule founded on the assumption of  rational expectations — where the world evolves in accordance with fully predetermined models where uncertainty has been reduced to stochastic risk describable by some probabilistic distribution.

The tiny little problem that there is no hard empirical evidence that verifies these models — cf. Michael Lovell (1986) & Nikolay Gertchev (2007) — usually doesn’t bother its protagonists too much. Rational expectations überpriest Thomas Sargent has the following to say on the epistemological status of the rational expectations hypothesis (emphasis added):

Partly because it focuses on outcomes and does not pretend to have behavioral content, the hypothesis of rational epectations has proved to be a powerful tool for making precise statements about complicated dynamic economic systems.

Precise, yes, in the celestial world of models. But relevant and realistic? I’ll be dipped!

And a few years later, when asked if he thought “that differences among people’s models are important aspects of macroeconomic policy debates”, Sargent replied (emphasis added):

The fact is you simply cannot talk about their differences within the typical rational expectations model. There is a communism of models. All agents within the model, the econometricians, and God share the same model.

Building models on rational expectations either means we are Gods or Idiots. Most of us know we are neither. So, Gods and idiots may share Sargent’s and Lucas’s models, but they certainly aren’t my models.


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On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics

by Lars Pålsson Syll    $20    153 pages   Cover of On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics

1. What is (wrong with) economic theory?
2. Capturing causality in economics and the limits of statistical inference
3. Microfoundations – spectacularly useless and positively harmful
4. Economics textbooks – anomalies and transmogrification of truth
5. Rational expectations – a fallacious foundation for macroeconomics
6. Neoliberalism and neoclassical economics
7. The limits of marginal productivity theory

  1. August 19, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Quote, “All agents within the model, the econometricians, and God share the same model.”

    I am reminded of a wonderful passage from Isaiah (44:14-17) about idolatry:

    “He cut down cedars….

    It is used as fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
    But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.

    Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
    He also warms himself and says,
    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”

    From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
    He prays to it and says,
    “Save me! You are my god!”

    Sargent hasn’t a clue about the ignorance of his comment about RE and God.

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