Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How Hard Is Economics?

thinking_hard Tyler Cowen:

Brad DeLong discusses a recent short essay by Kartik Athreya; Matt Yglesias chips in, as does Scott Sumner.

My view is a little different than Brad's.  I would say that economics is really, really, really, really, really, really, really hard.  And that's leaving out a few of the "reallys."

It's so hard that experts don't always do it well.  The experts are constantly prone to correction by non-experts, by practitioners, by people who are self-educated economic experts but not professional economists, and by people who know some economics and a lot about some other field(s).  It is very often that we -- at least some of us -- are wrong and at least some of those other people are right.  Furthermore those other people are often more meta-rational than a lot of professional economists.

Even very simple problems can be quite hard, such as why nominal wages are sometimes sticky or why particular markets don't always clear, in the absence of legal impediment.  Why doesn't the restaurant charge more on a Saturday night?  You can imagine how hard the hard problems are, such as what level of public expenditure is consistent with an ongoing and workable democratic equilibrium.

Putting aside agreement and ideology, and just focusing on how one understands an issue, I'll take my favorite non-Ph.d. bloggers over most professional economists, six out of seven days a week.  Not to estimate a coefficient, but to judge public policy, thereby integrating and evaluating broad bodies of knowledge?  It's not even close.

5 comments:

Steve Finnell said...

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W.E. Heasley said...

If Jared “the king of spin” Bernstein, the non-economist economist, can be a Chief Economist, then apparently economics can’t be all that difficult.

The again, Jared the Double Bass grad from the Manhattan School of Music was one of the authors of the Spruce Goose of all stimulus plans ever concocted. Maybe economics is merely more difficult for some than others.

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The Arthurian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Arthurian said...

How hard is learning to program in C? Many years back I skipped page one, which explained the difference between declarations and definitions, because I wanted to get to the good stuff.

Well, for three of four years I thought the C language was really really really really really hard. Then by accident I got back to page one, and that made all the difference.

I have no doubt that much of what economists do is difficult. They can have that part of it. But they're not going to solve the economic problem until they get back to basics and correct a few of their assumptions.

"The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple and should be obvious." -- JMK