Frisch and Haavelmo on econometrics and statistics

4 July, 2014 at 09:51 | Posted in Statistics & Econometrics | 1 Comment


For the sake of balancing the overly rosy picture of econometric achievements given in this otherwise nice video, it may be interesting to see how Trygve Haavelmo — with the completion (in 1958) of the twenty-fifth volume of Econometrica — assessed the the role of econometrics in the advancement of economics. Although mainly positive of the “repair work” and “clearing-up work” done, Haavelmo also found some grounds for despair:

We have found certain general principles which would seem to make good sense. Essentially, these principles are based on the reasonable idea that, if an economic model is in fact “correct” or “true,” we can say something a priori about the way in which the data emerging from it must behave. We can say something, a priori, about whether it is theoretically possible to estimate the parameters involved. And we can decide, a priori, what the proper estimation procedure should be … But the concrete results of these efforts have often been a seemingly lower degree of accuracy of the would-be economic laws (i.e., larger residuals), or coefficients that seem a priori less reasonable than those obtained by using cruder or clearly inconsistent methods.

Haavelmo-intro-2-125397_630x210There is the possibility that the more stringent methods we have been striving to develop have actually opened our eyes to recognize a plain fact: viz., that the “laws” of economics are not very accurate in the sense of a close fit, and that we have been living in a dream-world of large but somewhat superficial or spurious correlations.

And as the quote below shows, Frisch also shared some of Haavelmo’s — and Keynes’s — doubts on the applicability of econometrics:

sp9997db.hovedspalteI have personally always been skeptical of the possibility of making macroeconomic predictions about the development that will follow on the basis of given initial conditions … I have believed that the analytical work will give higher yields – now and in the near future – if they become applied in macroeconomic decision models where the line of thought is the following: “If this or that policy is made, and these conditions are met in the period under consideration, probably a tendency to go in this or that direction is created”.

Ragnar Frisch

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1 Comment

  1. Frisch could be interpreted as attempting to explain the significance of econometric results, rather than denying their applicability. For example, in 2008, instead of saying ‘growth will be at 3%’ he would have said ‘we can expect growth to be about 3%, unless the bubble bursts’. Thus the problem wasn’t that the growth figure turned out to be wrong, but that it was treated as a ‘prediction’ rather than simply an extrapolation.


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