Dani Rodrik’s smorgasbord view of economic models (I)

14 Dec, 2015 at 15:56 | Posted in Economics | 7 Comments

Traveling by train to Stockholm during the weekend, yours truly had plenty of time to catch up on some reading.

Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules (Oxford University Press, 2015) is one of those rare examples where a mainstream economist — instead of just looking the other way — takes his time to ponder on the tough and deep science-theoretic and methodological questions that underpin the economics discipline.

There’s much in the book I like and appreciate, but there is also a very disturbing apologetic tendency to blame all of the shortcomings on the economists and depicting economics itself as a problem-free smorgasbord collection of models. If you just choose the appropriate model from the immense and varied smorgasbord there’s no problem. It is as if all problems in economics were conjured away if only we could make the proper model selection. To Rodrik the problem is always the economists, never economics itself. I sure wish it was that simple, but having written more than ten books on the history and methodology of economics, and having spent almost forty years among them econs, I have to confess I don’t quite recognize the picture …

first economist


  1. It is a self-flattering view that economics is the mysterious art of choosing the right model for the occasion.

  2. This is such an annoying defence. Post-Keynesians have proved that a coherent paradigm can include a wide variety of models — compare the Kaldorian versus the Keen business cycle model, for example — and yet can have fairly widespread consensus about empirical and policy issues. That is the sign of a healthy paradigm. While the neoclassicals fight out imaginary battles based, largely, on what their political preferences and and instead agree on absurd methodological proclivities, microfoundations dogmas and various other sicknesses. It is infuriating.

  3. Models should be evaluated on the basis of their usefulness.

  4. Useful idiots and poor scientists
    Comment on Fred Welfare on ‘Dani Rodrik’s smorgasbord view of economic models’
    You say “Models should be evaluated on the basis of their usefulness.”
    Economists are the champions of use value and utility maximization. This explains why they have never produced anything of scientific value.
    “True science is distinctively the study of useless things. For the useful things will get studied without the aid of scientific men. To employ these rare minds on such work is like running a steam engine by burning diamonds.” (Peirce, 1931, 1.76)
    Scientific thinking is guided by the criterion true/false and nothing else. Usefulness is only a good argument for selling mothballs and modls.
    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke
    Peirce, C. S. (1931). Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, volume I. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    URL courses.arch.ntua.gr/fsr/138469/Peirce,%20Collected%20papers.pdf.

  5. “Got a problem? We’ve gotta model!”

  6. What every Model says:

    I’ll take a little this and a little of that
    Dani Rodrik said at a buffet
    granted it’ll make me fat
    but wow so much on display
    plus I have slim fast models if the girth gets in the way(hehe)

  7. My review of Rodrik’s book comes to a similar conclusion: “Economics Rules offers many useful and valid insights into the nature of economic models, but attempts to rationalise away the problems which confront the field rather than face them squarely.” https://futureofeverything.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/the-five-stages-of-economic-grief-part-3/

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