The talismanic worship of mathematics in economics

2 July, 2016 at 00:33 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments

QUALITIES OF AN ASTROLOGERUltimately, the problem isn’t with worshipping models of the stars, but rather with uncritical worship of the language used to model them, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in economics …

Right now … there is widespread bias in favour of using mathematics. The success of math-heavy disciplines such as physics and chemistry has granted mathematical formulas with decisive authoritative force. Lord Kelvin, the 19th-century mathematical physicist, expressed this quantitative obsession:

“When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it… in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.”

The trouble with Kelvin’s statement is that measurement and mathematics do not guarantee the status of science – they guarantee only the semblance of science. When the presumptions or conclusions of a scientific theory are absurd or simply false, the theory ought to be questioned and, eventually, rejected. The discipline of economics, however, is presently so blinkered by the talismanic authority of mathematics that theories go overvalued and unchecked.

Alan Jay Levinovitz

2 Comments »

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  1. I think poor Kelvin has been slandered. Economists use the math to prove qualitative results, which is not what Kelvin was advocating for at all.

  2. In macroeconomics two opposing activities occur at once, but we lack a suitable language for this because we can only describe one thing at a time. Its not the maths that is the problem but our inability to double think.


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