Friday, November 26, 2004

Is economics a science? II

Marcus and Jason Stanley were guest bloggers (on Leiter Reports) and had a great deal to say about the subject of my previous post. Marcus' first post asks the question, not "is economics a science?" but rather "[d]oes economics do a better job of that than untutored common sense and/or the other social 'sciences' and humanities?" He thinks that, yes, economics does contribute valuable, unobvious counterfactuals to human knowledge, and further expounds upon the strengths of economics in this post. In his third post, Marcus makes the very interesting point that
I really do see economics as an interpretive discipline, though a heavily quantitative one. Quantification and measurement instead of verbal description. Formal, mathematical theories are used to express the "stories" that make sense of social interaction. Formalisms discipline the process of narrative description, forcing clarity about both assumptions and processes.
This is a very good view of what economics does. As Paul Krugman writes frequently, economics, and formal economics in particular, works to draw out intutitions and clarify them, often in surprising and unexpected ways. Marcus' fourth post explores the failure of economists to view capitalism in a broader cultural sense. His final post highlights the growing importance of psychology and society in economics. As he says:
economics is starting to make exciting moves toward the other social sciences in ways that go beyond boring extensions of stripped down rational actor models. At times I think that some of this work is still too individualistic and continues to "evade culture" (in the sense that it does not try to look at the the structure of shared interpretive meanings that communities develop), but it is worthwhile and innovative stuff.
The whole thread is interesting, I encourage everyone to read it.

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