Quote 17: Dani Rodrik on the problem with economist

Dani Rodrik’s blog can be found here. I found this quote insightful:

“The problem wasn’t with the economics but with the economists.” Theories and models are tools, but “we have fixated on one of the possible hundreds of models and elevated that above the others,” he said, referring to free market theory. “We form a narrative of the moment, which fits the zeitgeist.”

From the New York times (ht The Big Picture).

Like we have said a million times – the economic method is awesome for framing issues. But picking a model (which involves picking a set of value judgments) is not necessarily our strong point.

Previously, I have felt that economists could focus on setting up the framework and letting other people throw in the value judgments – but this process has not described the way economists have acted. As a result, it also shouldn’t describe what people judge economists on.

The economic method is great for making value judgments transparent – but it appears (some) economists seem more interested in clouding their models for political purposes than making full use of the framework. This is the message I gained from Dani Rodrik’s quote 🙂

  • You mean you have a problem with economists having an opinion? I anticipate your response will suggest that they should frame any opinion by making clear what are value judgments and what are positive statements; however, that makes for very bad reading and is unlikely to happen when writing outside a purely academic context.

    My real question is, how can economists have an opinion AND be persuasive and readable without mixing value judgments in with models?

  • Kimble

    Channelling moz:

    Engineers could do it all better.

  • @rauparaha

    Good questions rauparaha.

    I would say my problem with economists is that they act like their opinions are strictly the result of objective analysis – when they are the result of value judgments.

    Now economists can’t be persuasive and have opinions without value judgments – as you can’t reach a conclusion without introducing some value judgments.

    However, I would prefer it if economists didn’t say things like “that is just bad economics” when someone with an equally robust argument disagrees with them. This is where my issue with some economists currently sits.

  • @Kimble

    I had the feeling economists practically were engineers 😛

    God knows we use exactly the same dynamic programming methods …

  • Pingback: The failure of contemporary macroeconomic theory? | TVHE()

  • Pingback: The failure of contemporary macroeconomic theory? | TVHE()