Archive for the ‘The Economics Profession’ Category

A beautiful idea?

from David Ruccio

What most of my students know about  and game theory (at least before sitting through my two or three lectures on the topic or taking an entire course in game theory) they derived from the film, A Beautiful Mind, and the stupid example used to illustrate game theory in the film (of a blond woman walking into a bar).

As Kenneth Chang explains, the episode in the film is not an example of a Nash equilibrium. Read more…

Consistency and validity is not enough!

May 23, 2015 4 comments

from Lars Syll

Neoclassical economic theory today is in the story-telling business whereby economic theorists create make-believe analogue models of the target system – usually conceived as the real economic system. This modeling activity is considered useful and essential. Since fully-fledged experiments on a societal scale as a rule are prohibitively expensive, ethically indefensible or unmanageable, economic theorists have to substitute experimenting with something else. To understand and explain relations between different entities in the real economy the predominant strategy is to build models and make things happen in these “analogue-economy models” rather than engineering things happening in real economies.

Formalistic deductive “Glasperlenspiel” can be very impressive and seductive. But in the realm of science it ought to be considered of little or no value to simply make claims about the model and lose sight of reality. As Julian Reiss writes:  Read more…

Categories: methodology

Paul Romer is ‘busy’ …

May 21, 2015 8 comments

from Lars Syll

About math: I have an undergraduate degree in physics. I’ve seen clear evidence that math can facilitate scientific progress toward the truth.

If you think that math is worthless or dangerous, I’m sure that there are people who will be happy to discuss this with you. I’m not interested. I’m busy.  too-busy-people-workplace-ecard-someecards

About truth and science: My fundamental premise is that there is an objective notion of truth and that science can help us make progress toward truth.

If you do not accept this premise, I’m sure that there are people who would be happy to debate it with you. I’m not interested. I’m busy.

Paul Romer

Hmm …  Read more…

Modelling consistency and real world non-coherence in mainstream economics

May 20, 2015 2 comments

from Lars Syll


In those cases where economists do focus on questions of market or competitive equilibrium etc., the formulators of the models in question are often careful to stress that their theorising has little connection with the real world anyway and should not be used to draw conclusions about the latter, whether in terms of efficiency or for policy or whatever.

In truth in those cases where mainstream assumptions and categories are couched in terms of economic systems as a whole they are mainly designed to achieve consistency at the level of modelling rather than coherence with the world in which we live.

This concern for a notion of consistency in modelling practice is true for example of the recently fashionable rational expectations hypothesis, originally formulated by John Muth (1961), and widely employed by those that do focus on system level outcomes. The hypothesis proposes that predictions attributed to agents (being theorised about) are treated as being essentially the same as (consistent with)  those generated by the economic model within which the same agents are theorised. As such the proposal is clearly no more than a technique for (consistency in) modelling, albeit a bizarre one. Significantly any assertion that the expectations held (and so model in which they are imposed) are essentially correct, is a step that is additional to assuming rational expectations.

Read more…

The fetishism of mathematics

from David Ruccio

I am tempted, in response to Paul Romer, to paraphrase the Old Moor: “The use of mathematics in economics appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.”

The last time I had the occasion to comment on Romer’s work was in reaction to the neoclassical colonialism of his proposal for “charter cities” in poor countries. Now, in a desperate bid to save the last vestiges of so-called endogenous growth theory, Romer has gone on the attack against what he calls “mathiness” in contemporary growth theory.

What is mathiness? Read more…

Paul Romer on math masquerading as science

May 19, 2015 3 comments

from Lars Syll

I have a new paper in the Papers and Proceedings Volume of the AER that is out in print and on the AER website …

Paul_RomerThe point of the paper is that if we want economics to be a science, we have to recognize that it is not ok for macroeconomists to hole up in separate camps, one that supports its version of the geocentric model of the solar system and another that supports the heliocentric model …

The usual way to protect a scientific discussion from the factionalism of academic politics is to exclude people who opt out of the norms of science. The challenge lies in knowing how to identify them.

From my paper:

“The style that I am calling mathiness lets academic politics masquerade as science. Like mathematical theory, mathiness uses a mixture of words and symbols, but instead of making tight links, it leaves ample room for slippage between statements in natural versus formal language and between statements with theoretical as opposed to empirical content.”

Read more…

Changing our development paradigms

May 19, 2015 2 comments

from Asad Zaman  (reposted from the WEA Pedagogical Blog)

Growing up in British India, my father learnt that Great Powers had certain special characteristics. For global influence, they had to have sea power which required indented coastlines and natural harbours, coal mines for energy, extensive telegraph cables for communications. Furthermore, they had to have a cold climate to make them hardy, and be isolated from the mainland so as to have natural defences against potential rivals and enemies. In light of these criteria, it would be obvious even to a child, that the UK was the sole and unrivalled leader of the world. Read more…

Liberty to do what?

May 18, 2015 1 comment

from Peter Radford

Continuing my peon to Judt: he reminds us of Condorcet’s fear:

“Liberty will be no more, in the eyes of an avid nation, than the necessary condition for the security of financial operations.”

No kidding.

How many times do we come across, in this avid nation of ours, some foolish comment that our social policies must not restrict commerce? How many times do we hear some politician arguing that we must become more business friendly? We scarcely can move an inch without tripping over someone cajoling us with fears that limitations on liberty are actually limitations on prosperity. As if prosperous was purely an arithmetic reference and had no qualitative content.

This is Condorcet’s fear alive and well. We seem to have reduced liberty to some small prop for the making of profit. Liberty is simply, in this ghostly shadow of what it once was, a veil behind which profits can be amassed without reference to the fabric of society as whole. And certainly without reference to any larger interest than that of the individual, or individuals, engaged in making that profit. Read more…

Piketty and the non-applicability of neoclassical economics

May 17, 2015 5 comments

from Lars Syll

economic-mythIn yours truly’s On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics the author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is criticized for not being prepared to fully take the consequences of marginal productivity theory — and the alleged close connection between productivity and remuneration postulated in mainstream income distribution theory — over and over again being disconfirmed both by history and, as shown already by Sraffa in the 1920s and in the Cambridge capital controversy in the 1960s, also from a theoretical point of view: Read more…

Economics and the value of art

from David Ruccio


Neoclassical economists don’t have a lot to say about the value of art. Read more…

“Fear the Economics Textbook (Story of the Next Crook)”

May 13, 2015 6 comments

from Steve Ziliak

I believe that you and readers of Real World Economics Blog would like to know about an “economics rap battle” that is challenging more than orthodox economics.

Here is some discussion at Inside Higher Ed, together with the opposing videos:

Lyrics for my and my students at Roosevelt University in Chicago’ “Fear the Economics Textbook (Story of the Next Crook)” video are here:

The reply from the National Review is amusing but predictable:

In solidarity,  Steve

Categories: students, teaching

In search of causality

May 13, 2015 Leave a comment

from Lars Syll


One of the few statisticians that I have on my blogroll is Andrew Gelman.  Although not sharing his Bayesian leanings, yours truly finds  his open-minded, thought-provoking and non-dogmatic statistical thinking highly recommendable. The plaidoyer here below for “reverse causal questioning” is typical Gelmanian:

When statistical and econometrc methodologists write about causal inference, they generally focus on forward causal questions. We are taught to answer questions of the type “What if?”, rather than “Why?” Following the work by Rubin (1977) causal questions are typically framed in terms of manipulations: if x were changed by one unit, how much would y be expected to change? But reverse causal questions are important too … In many ways, it is the reverse causal questions that motivate the research, including experiments and observational studies, that we use to answer the forward questions …  Read more…

Categories: econometrics, methodology

The limits of statistical inference

May 6, 2015 2 comments

from Lars Syll

causationCausality in social sciences — and economics — can never solely be a question of statistical inference. Causality entails more than predictability, and to really in depth explain social phenomena require theory. Analysis of variation — the foundation of all econometrics — can never in itself reveal how these variations are brought about. First when we are able to tie actions, processes or structures to the statistical relations detected, can we say that we are getting at relevant explanations of causation.

For more on these issues — see the chapter “Capturing causality in economics and the limits of statistical inference” in my On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics.

The man who completely missed the housing bubble and was convinced financial disruption would be restricted to the subprime market deserves two seven-figure sinecures?

May 6, 2015 2 comments

from Dean Baker

I hate to be picking on Matt O’Brien again, but come on, this is setting the bar pretty goddamn low. He began a piece reporting on a consulting gig that Bernanke will have the bond fund Pimco by telling readers:

“If anyone deserves two seven-figure sinecures, it’s Ben Bernanke.”

I won’t go over the full indictment of Ben Bernanke and will give him credit for a reasonably good job trying to boost the economy post-crash in the wake of the outraged opposition of the right-wing, but let’s get real. The housing bubble and ensuing crash were not natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Read more…

Transaction Cost Confusion

May 5, 2015 3 comments

from Peter Radford

OK. Let’s have some fun.

Transaction costs were invented by Ronald Coase to help explain why we see business firms littering the economic landscape when orthodox economic theory argues that the marketplace is the superior and unequalled coordinator of economic activity. The Coasian idea, later extended and expanded upon by the likes of Oliver Williamson, is that there are costs of accessing the market which, under some circumstances, render market coordination more expensive than having production contained within the boundaries of what we call a business firm. These costs are what are now called transaction costs.

The problem is that they are also fairly vague. Indeed on of the main counter attacks by leading orthodox economists has always been that transaction costs are hard to pin down and thus ‘formalize’. And, as we all know, things that are not formal are considered to be dicey and not rigorous by orthodox ideologues.

Anyway, that’s for them to argue over, let’s get back to our fun.  Read more…

Rational expectations — totally incredible bogus

May 4, 2015 7 comments

from Lars Syll

Roman Frydman is Professor of Economics at New York University and a long time critic of the rational expectations hypothesis. In his seminal 1982 American Economic Review article Towards an Understanding of Market Processes: Individual Expectations, Learning, and Convergence to Rational Expectations Equilibrium — an absolute must-read for anyone with a serious interest in understanding what are the issues in the present discussion on rational expectations as a modeling assumption — he showed that models founded on the rational expectations hypothesis are inadequate as representation of economic agents’ decision making.

Those who want to build macroeconomics on microfoundations usually maintain that the only robust policies and institutions are those based on rational expectations and representative actors. As yours truly has tried to show in On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics there is really no support for this conviction at all. On the contrary. If we want to have anything of interest to say on real economies, financial crisis and the decisions and choices real people make, it is high time to place macroeconomic models building on representative actors and rational expectations-microfoundations where they belong – in the dustbin of history.  Read more…

Coase and Reality

from Peter Radford

In his introduction to a collection of his own work, Ronald Coase tells us:

‘Becker points out that: “what most distinguishes economics as a discipline from other disciplines in the social sciences is not its subject matter but its approach”’.

He then goes on:

‘One result of this divorce of the theory from its subject matter has been that the entities whose decisions economists are engaged in analyzing lack any substance. The consumer is not a human being but a consistent set of preferences. The firm, to an economist, as Slater has said, “is effectively defined as a cost curve and a demand curve, and the theory is simply the logic of optimal pricing and input combination”. Exchange takes place without any specification of its institutional setting. We have consumers without humanity, firms without organization, and even exchange without markets.’

All true, too true.  Read more…

Validating assumptions

April 30, 2015 1 comment

from Lars Syll

Piketty uses the terms “capital” and “wealth” interchangeably to denote the total monetary value of shares, housing and other assets. “Income” is measured in money terms. We shall reserve the term “capital” for the totality of productive assets evaluated at constant prices. The term “output” is used to denote the totality of net output (value-added) measured at constant prices. Piketty uses the symbol β to denote the ratio of “wealth” to “income” and he denotes the share of wealth-owners in total income by α. In his theoretical analysis this share is equated to the share of profits in total output. Piketty documents how α and β have both risen by a considerable amount in recent decades. He argues that this is not mere correlation, but reflects a causal link. It is the rise in β which is responsible for the rise in α. To reach this conclusion, he first assumes that β is equal to the capital-output ratio K/Y, as conventionally understood. From his empirical finding that β has risen, he concludes that K/Y has also risen by a similar amount. According to the neoclassical theory of factor shares, an increase in K/Y will only lead to an increase in α when the elasticity of substitution between capital and labour σ is greater than unity. Piketty asserts that this is the case. Indeed, based on movements α and β, he estimates that σ is between 1.3 and 1.6 (page 221).  Read more…

Categories: methodology

Are economists superior to other social scientists?

April 29, 2015 4 comments

from Grazia Ietto-Gillies

En route from London to Rome I read The Superiority of Economists by Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion and Yann Algan (Journal of Economic Perspectives, 29, 1: 89-114).

Some travels within Italy – to Pisa and Siena – gave me time for musings and reflections about the content of this paper. Move forward a few weeks and back in London I have decided to turn those reflections into clicks and share them . . .  read more

Macroeconomic ad hocery

April 28, 2015 4 comments

from Lars Syll

Robert Lucas is well-known for condemning everything that isn’t microfounded rational expectations macroeconomics as “ad hoc” theorizing.adhoc

But instead of rather unsubstantiated recapitulations, it would be refreshing and helpful  if the Chicago übereconomist — for a change — endeavoured to clarify just what he means by “ad hoc.”

The standard meaning — OED — of the term is “for this particular purpose.” But in the hands of New Classical–RBC–New Keynesians it seems to be used more to convey the view that modeling with realist and relevant assumptions is somehow equivalent to basing models on “specifics” rather than the “fundamentals” of individual intertemporal optimization and rational expectations.

This is of course pure nonsense, simply because there is no — as yours truly has argued at length e. g. here — macro behaviour that consistently follows from the RBC–New Keynesian microfoundations. The only ones that succumb to ad hoc assumptions here are macroeconomists like Lucas et consortes, who believe that macroeconomic behaviour can be adequately analyzed with a fictitious rational-expectations-optimizing-robot-imitation-representative-agent.

Categories: methodology

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