Does it — really — take a model to beat a model?

10 Jan, 2020 at 11:05 | Posted in Economics | 3 Comments

A critique yours truly sometimes encounters is that as long as I cannot come up with some own alternative model to the failing mainstream models, I shouldn’t expect people to pay attention.

This is, however, to totally and utterly misunderstand the role of philosophy and methodology of economics!

As John Locke wrote in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

19557-004-21162361The Commonwealth of Learning is not at this time without Master-Builders, whose mighty Designs, in advancing the Sciences, will leave lasting Monuments to the Admiration of Posterity; But every one must not hope to be a Boyle, or a Sydenham; and in an Age that produces such Masters, as the Great-Huygenius, and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some other of that Strain; ’tis Ambition enough to be employed as an Under-Labourer in clearing Ground a little, and removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way to Knowledge.

That’s what philosophy and methodology can contribute to economics — clearing obstacles to science by clarifying limits and consequences of choosing specific modelling strategies, assumptions, and ontologies.

unnameadIt takes a model to beat a model has to be one of the stupider things, in a pretty crowded field, to come out of economics. … I don’t get it. If a model is demonstrably wrong, that should surely be sufficient for rejection. I’m thinking of bridge engineers: ‘look I know they keep falling down but I’m gonna keep building em like this until you come up with a better way, OK?’

Jo Michell


  1. Another point is that the methematical model enthusiasts seem to be too dim to understand that that a collection of WORDS setting out a series of relationships is just as much a model as is a set of mathematical symbols setting out a series of relationships. The mathematical version is sometimes more pricise, but that precision is one big delusion in a world where nothing is knowable with any great certainty.

    • How can you be certain that nothing is knowable without any great certainty? Seems like an assumption just as arbitrary as those you argue against …

      • s/knowable without/knowable with

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