Bad taste in mouth modeling

5 January, 2016 at 19:59 | Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

How do mainstream economists react when confronted with the monumental absence of empirical fit of their macroeconomic models? Well, they do as they always have done — they use one of their four pet strategies for immunizing their models to the facts:

(1) Treat the model as an axiomatic system, making all its claims into tautologies — ‘true’ by the meaning of propositional connectives.

(2) Use unspecified auxiliary ceteris paribus assumptions, giving all claims put forward in the model unlimited ‘alibis.’

(3) Limit the application of the model to restricted areas where the assumptions/hypotheses/axioms are met.

(4) Leave the application of the model open, making it impossible to falsify/refute the model by facts.

Sounds great doesn’t it?

Well, the problem is, of course, that ‘saving’ theories and models by these kind of immunizing strategies are totally unacceptable from a scientific point of view.

Economists have ignored the analysis of an important class of activities which can and should be brought within the purview of the theory. A prime example of this class is brushing teeth.

BeckerGaryCartoon2009_07_10The conventional analysis of toothbrushing has centered around two basic models. The “bad taste in mouth” model is based on the notion that each person has a “taste for brushing,” and the fact that brushing frequencies differ is “explained” by differences in tastes. Since any pattern of human behavior can be rationalized by such implicit theorizing, this model is devoid of empirically testable predictions, and hence uninteresting.

The “mother told me so” theory is based on differences in cultural upbringing. Here it is argued, for example, that thrice-a-day brushers brush three times daily because their mothers forced them to do so as children. Of course, this is hardly a complete explanation. Like most psychological theories, it leaves open the question of why mothers should want their children to brush after every meal …

Alan Blinder

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