Econometrics — still lacking valid ontological foundations

6 December, 2017 at 16:51 | Posted in Statistics & Econometrics | 2 Comments

Important and far-reaching problems still beset regression analysis and econometrics — many of which basically is a result of unsustainable ontological views.

complex-research-terminology-simMost econometricians have a nominalist-positivist view of science and models, according to which science can only deal with observable regularity patterns of a more or less lawlike kind. Only data matters and trying to (ontologically) go beyond observed data in search of underlying real factors and relations that generate the data is not admissible. All have to take place in the model of the econometric mind, since the real factors and relations according to the econometric (epistemologically based) methodology are beyond reach, since they, allegedly, are both unobservable and unmeasurable. This also means that instead of treating the model-based findings as interesting clues for digging deeper into real structures and mechanisms, they are treated as the endpoints of the investigation.

As mathematical statistician David Freedman writes in Statistical Models and Causal Inference (2010):

In my view, regression models are not a particularly good way of doing empirical work in the social sciences today, because the technique depends on knowledge that we do not have. Investigators who use the technique are not paying adequate attention to the connection – if any – between the models and the phenomena they are studying. Their conclusions may be valid for the computer code they have created, but the claims are hard to transfer from that microcosm to the larger world …

freedman2Given the limits to present knowledge, I doubt that models can be rescued by technical fixes. Arguments about the theoretical merit of regression or the asymptotic behavior of specification tests for picking one version of a model over another seem like the arguments about how to build desalination plants with cold fusion and the energy source. The concept may be admirable, the technical details may be fascinating, but thirsty people should look elsewhere …

Causal inference from observational data presents may difficulties, especially when underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. There is a natural desire to substitute intellectual capital for labor, and an equally natural preference for system and rigor over methods that seem more haphazard. These are possible explanations for the current popularity of statistical models.

Indeed, far-reaching claims have been made for the superiority of a quantitative template that depends on modeling – by those who manage to ignore the far-reaching assumptions behind the models. However, the assumptions often turn out to be unsupported by the data. If so, the rigor of advanced quantitative methods is a matter of appearance rather than substance.

If econometrics is to progress it has to abandon its outdated nominalist-positivist view of science and the belief that science can only deal with observable regularity patterns of a more or less law-like kind. Scientific theories do more than just describe event-regularities and patterns — they also analyze and describe the mechanisms, structures, and processes that give birth to these patterns and eventual regularities.

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On tour

6 December, 2017 at 16:42 | Posted in Varia | Comments Off on On tour

sodermalm

Touring again. Visiting Stockholm and making a guest appearance​​ in the Swedish Parliament. Regular blogging to be resumed during the weekend.

The Victims of Game Theory

3 December, 2017 at 20:45 | Posted in Economics | 6 Comments

gameImagine you and someone you do not know can share $100. It is up to you to propose how to divide the $100 between the two of you, and the other player will need to accept or reject your proposal. If he rejects the proposal, neither of you will receive anything. What sum will you offer the other player?

I have data on the choices of about 12,300 people, most of them students, who were asked this question. Nearly half of the participants (49%) offered the other player the fair offer of $50 …

The participants in the experiment who make the embarrassing offer of just $1 because they learned this in a game theory course are again the distinguished members of the Victims of Game Theory organization. And if they played the game in real life, their achievements would be inferior to those who had not become wise by studying game theory.

Ariel Rubinstein

Financial modeling

3 December, 2017 at 12:54 | Posted in Varia | 1 Comment

 
dilbert

He was my brother (personal)

3 December, 2017 at 12:29 | Posted in Varia | 4 Comments

 

In loving memory of my brother Peter

People say time heals all wounds.
I wish that was true.
But some wounds never heal — you just learn to live with the scars.

But in dreams,
I can hear your name.
And in dreams,
We will meet again.

When the seas and mountains fall
And we come to end of days,
In the dark I hear a call
Calling me there
I will go there
And back again.

Trumped-up trickle-down tax cuts

2 December, 2017 at 18:19 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

wealth will trickle downWho would have thought that Lafferian supply-side economics and ‘trickle-down’ horseshit would be resurrected? Yours truly, for one, thought we had buried those zombies for good. Trump and the GOP thought otherwise and have now decided to give wealthy business owners and corporate shareholders an early Christmas gift this year …

Economic fables

1 December, 2017 at 17:28 | Posted in Economics | Comments Off on Economic fables

arielThis book reflects my debate with myself​ about economic theory. On the one hand, I am captivated by the charm of formal models: tales emerge from the formal symbols, and these tales have almost miraculous powers over me. On the other hand, I am obsessively occupied with denying any interpretation​ contending that economic models produce conclusions of real value. I feel attracted to economics as a branch of philosophy and as an academic field in which an intelligent discussion of social arrangements is, or at least can be, conducted. But I also feel disgust for economics as an academic field that tends toward conservatism and helps the strong in society maintain their dominance, and thus serves people for whom I have little empathy.

Mainstream economics — an obscurantist waste of time

30 November, 2017 at 12:54 | Posted in Economics | 4 Comments

One may perhaps, distinguish between obscure writers and obscurantist writers. The former aim at truth, but do not respect the norms for arriving at truth, such as focusing on causality, acting as the Devil’s Advocate, and generating falsifiable hypotheses. The latter do not aim at truth, and often scorn the very idea that there is such a thing as the truth …

obscurant-1The authors I have singled out are far from marginal, and in fact are at the core of the profession. Their numerous awards testify to this fact.

These writings have in common a somewhat uncanny combination of mathematical sophistication on the one hand and conceptual naiveté and empirical sloppiness on the other. The mathematics, which could have been a tool, is little more than toy. The steam engine was invented by Hero of Alexandria in the first century A. D., but he considered it mainly as a toy, not as a tool that could be put to productive use. He did apparently use it, though, for opening temple doors, so his engine wasn’t completely idling. Hard obscurantist models, too, may have some value as tools, but mostly they are toys.

I have pointed to the following objectionable practices:

2. Adopting huge simplifications that make the empirical relevance of the results essentially nil …

3. Assuming that the probabilities in a stochastic process are known to the agents … or even in some sense optimal …

7. Assuming that agents can choose optimal preferences …

11. Adhering to the instrumental Chicago-style philosophy of explanation, which emphasizes as-if rationality and denies that the realism of assumptions is a relevant issue.

Jon Elster

It’s hard not to agree with Elster’s critique of mainstream economics and its practice of letting models and procedures become ends in themselves, without considerations of their lack of explanatory value as regards real-world phenomena. For more on modern mainstream economics and this kind of wilfully silly obscurantism, yours truly self-indulgently recommend reading this article on RBC or this article on mainstream axiomatics.

Many mainstream economists working in the field of economic theory think that their task is to give us analytical truths. That is great — from a mathematical and formal logical point of view. In science, however, it is rather uninteresting and totally uninformative! The framework of the analysis is too narrow. Even if economic theory gives us ‘logical’ truths, that is not what we are looking for as scientists. We are interested in finding truths that give us new information and knowledge of the world in which we live.

Scientific theories are theories that ‘refer’ to the real-world, where axioms and definitions do not take us very far. To be of interest for an economist or social scientist that wants to understand, explain, or predict real-world phenomena, the pure theory has to be ‘interpreted’ — it has to be ‘applied’ theory. An economic theory that does not go beyond proving theorems and conditional ‘if-then’ statements — and do not make assertions and put forward hypotheses about real-world individuals and institutions — is of little consequence for anyone wanting to use theories to better understand, explain or predict real-world phenomena.

Mainstream theoretical economics has no empirical content whatsoever. And it certainly has no relevance whatsoever to a scientific endeavour of expanding real-world knowledge. This should come as no surprise. Building theories and models on unjustified patently ridiculous assumptions we know people never conform to, does not deliver real science. Real and reasonable people have no reason to believe in ‘as-if’ models of ‘rational’ robot-imitations acting and deciding in a Walt Disney-world characterised by ‘common knowledge,’ ‘full information,’ ‘rational expectations,’ zero  transaction costs, given stochastic probability distributions, risk-reduced genuine uncertainty, and other laughable nonsense assumptions of the same ilk. Science fiction is not science.

austerity22For decades now, economics students have been complaining about the way economics is taught. Their complaints are justified. Force-feeding young and open-minded people with unverified and useless autistic mainstream neoclassical theories and models cannot be the right way to develop a relevant and realistic economic science.

Much work done in mainstream theoretical economics is devoid of any explanatory interest. And not only that. Seen from a strictly scientific point of view, it has no value at all. It is a waste of time. And as so many have been experiencing in modern times of austerity policies and market fundamentalism — a very harmful waste of time.

The real harm done by Bayesianism

30 November, 2017 at 09:02 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | 2 Comments

419Fn8sV1FL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The bias toward the superficial and the response to extraneous influences on research are both examples of real harm done in contemporary social science by a roughly Bayesian paradigm of statistical inference as the epitome of empirical argument. For instance the dominant attitude toward the sources of black-white differential in United States unemployment rates (routinely the rates are in a two to one ratio) is “phenomenological.” The employment differences are traced to correlates in education, locale, occupational structure, and family background. The attitude toward further, underlying causes of those correlations is agnostic … Yet on reflection, common sense dictates that racist attitudes and institutional racism must play an important causal role. People do have beliefs that blacks are inferior in intelligence and morality, and they are surely influenced by these beliefs in hiring decisions … Thus, an overemphasis on Bayesian success in statistical inference discourages the elaboration of a type of account of racial disadavantages that almost certainly provides a large part of their explanation.

For all scholars seriously interested in questions on what makes up a good scientific explanation, Richard Miller’s Fact and Method is a must read. His incisive critique of Bayesianism is still unsurpassed.

wpid-bilindustriella-a86478514bOne of yours truly’s favourite ‘problem situating lecture arguments’ against Bayesianism goes something like this: Assume you’re a Bayesian turkey and hold a nonzero probability belief in the hypothesis H that “people are nice vegetarians that do not eat turkeys and that every day I see the sunrise confirms my belief.” For every day you survive, you update your belief according to Bayes’ Rule

P(H|e) = [P(e|H)P(H)]/P(e),

where evidence e stands for “not being eaten” and P(e|H) = 1. Given that there do exist other hypotheses than H, P(e) is less than 1 and a fortiori P(H|e) is greater than P(H). Every day you survive increases your probability belief that you will not be eaten. This is totally rational according to the Bayesian definition of rationality. Unfortunately — as Bertrand Russell famously noticed — for every day that goes by, the traditional Christmas dinner also gets closer and closer …

For more on my own objections to Bayesianism, see my Bayesianism — a patently absurd approach to science and One of the reasons I’m a Keynesian and not a Bayesian.

The first speculative bubble

28 November, 2017 at 14:29 | Posted in Economics | 6 Comments

 

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