Noah Smith — ill-informed and misleading

14 August, 2016 at 11:51 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments

Yours truly is far from being alone in criticising Noah Smith’s article on heterodox economics and mathematics (on which I commented yesterday). Tom Palley writes:

(1) Pretty much everything Smith charges heterodox economics with can be said about orthodox economics. That’s OK, but in that case we should open the classroom and op-ed pages to a variety of points of view and abandon the neoclassical monopoly.

IGLTA-misinform(2) Smith’s views on mathematical models come close to fetishism. Models have use value but they do not define economics (think of a paper with just math and no words vs. a paper with just words), and models are easily pushed into the realm of “negative” marginal returns.

Furthermore, Smith appears ignorant of the fact that mathematical modelling is very widespread in heterodox economics.

(3) Smith’s comments about predicting the crisis are facile. It’s not about predicting “dates”, but about having a sense of imminent developments and a sense of the deep-seated nature of the problems (i.e. demand shortage, income inequality, financial fragility, and tendency to stagnation). If orthodoxy had anticipated a fraction of what heterodoxy has, it would be trumpeting its achievements.

(4) In sum, this is an ill-informed article that aims to defend the economics status quo with unwarranted claims about the weaknesses of heterodox economics and strengths of orthodox economics.



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  1. Was noah the guy who wanted to see better human models to improve Economics? Virtually impossible with mathematics ( unless you include agent based models as “mathematical”). Mathematical models of life are commonly virus models.

  2. One point that I always find troublesome is that most people writing about heterodox economics, on both sides of the debate mind you, are totally unaware of the fact that the more contemporary varieties of heterodoxy are very mathematical indeed.

  3. The problem is not only one of mathematical fetishism, it is also of the fetish that economics is a science and therefore must have testable models. There are too many physicists with doctorates who teach economics and write economics papers. And it’s not that having testable theories is not important or at least useful. There is only one reliable laboratory and that is the real world. Models aren’t needed. Theories can be tested against history. It’s about knowing when and how history applies and can be used.

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