Discussion Tuesday

I’m currently working part time and studying full time, which has significantly reduced the time I have to blog – even my normal plan of “writing the week ahead on Saturday morning” is starting to get stretched.  So to ensure that something will be up, I’m throwing up aimless metaphors and quotes and leaving them open for discussion.

Note that I do not necessarily agree with the points I’m putting up – in fact, some of them are points I disagree with.  The things I’ll raise will just be questions and statements I find interesting to consider!

This will be fun, I promise.  If the discussions are wicked enough I can do posts on them as well – win-win.  So let’s kick this off.

Economists provide the menu, it is up to society to choose from it, and accept the consequences of their choice.

13 replies
  1. Brennan McDonald
    Brennan McDonald says:

    I’ll bite: economists provide the menu, but a non-trivial proportion of society can’t read the menu because of the difficulties of economic communication and thus the menu might as well be printed in another language.

    No one wants to make the effort to learn about things that are hard or boring, so they can’t accept the consequences of menu choices because that would involve acknowledging that it was always in their power to take advantage of free information on the internet and figure out what part of the menu reflected their preferences best and vote accordingly…

  2. Peter Cresswell
    Peter Cresswell says:

    How about ‘Entrepreneurs provide the menu, while economists struggle to explain why and how.”

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I was going to sneak entrepreneurs in there – I was going to put them in as the ones making the meal. But I thought there was enough to argue about in the arbitrary metaphor to start with 🙂

      • Peter Cresswell
        Peter Cresswell says:

        Well, since most economists don’t even recognise entrepreneurs let alone try to “sneak” them into their production functions and equilibrium equations, I guess you being able to spell the word counts for something.

        • Matt Nolan
          Matt Nolan says:

          LOL, what an incredibly ungenerous comment!

          Economists do know the difference between static and dynamic efficiency. We just also recognise that these questions are difficult, and that we have to attempt to answer small but tightly defined questions to create knowledge.

          A determination to throw around vague group terms and pretend we have universal rules is in the purview of charlatans, not economists.

          • Peter Cresswell
            Peter Cresswell says:

            Well, I never said I was generous. There you are: I’m not generous.

            But I’m astonished to hear you think entrepreneur is “a vague group term.”

            (And, by the way, who do economists think makes productivity “efficient” in *both* senses?)

            • Matt Nolan
              Matt Nolan says:

              Ahh sorry, the last sentence was not targeted at you and the term entrepreneur at all – it was targeted at a common view of what people think economists do (which I was trying to say is not what we do). Rereading I realise that wasn’t clear, my apologies!

              I also think your comments can be generous, I was just concerned your point was tarring all economists, and economics, with a certain brush that wasn’t appropriate. We are not all Joan Robinson 😉

              I am very interested in entrepreneurs, I wanted to do my Masters thesis on entrepreneurship – specifically discussing it along an extensive and intensive margin (within firm and externally of the firm). But in the end I moved along to a different topic looking at when we would expect firms to overhire managers as a form of ‘capacity’ for competition.

              I also think entrepreneurs can get too ignored, and that dynamic efficiency gets too ignored as it is “harder to measure” than static measures. This is dangerous. It is an important for economists not to confuse what is measurable with what is important!

              The criticisms I’ve raised are along the lines of things I think you agree with, no? And I think they’d be neat points for having a debate about the quote I popped up, rather than simply stating as blanket fact that most economists are ignorant of the ideas 😉

              • Peter Cresswell
                Peter Cresswell says:

                Funny, I was just reading some Joan Robinson yesterday, and found her making a lot of sense. No, really. Mind you, it was a small amount of sense amid a sea of non-sense.

                Happy to accept your apology, and disappointed to hear entrepreneurs lost a champion.

                “Not everything that is valuable can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is valuable.”

                • Matt Nolan
                  Matt Nolan says:

                  Robinson was a genius, and her points on our lack of ability to generalise lessons on capital were true – however, instead of following what seemed like the logical conclusion of this (we know less than we think we do about investment) she wandered off and became a big fan of central planning.

                  I didn’t realise how unclear my statement was until I saw your reply – I often start defending against things before they’ve turned up in an argument, that is a bad habit and I need to get it under control 🙂

                  I hope to see you pop up with points in these discussions in the future – they will be on all sorts of issues, some of the quotes will even be things I completely disagree with!

  3. jamesz
    jamesz says:

    So society is like Moses, receiving the Ten Policies from an economist? I guess this quote wasn’t uttered by a sociologist!

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Hahaha, it depends how we defined “menu” I guess.

      I don’t think this quote was uttered by anyone. I just have a series of different little metaphors and thought experiments I thought I’d put down in absence of posts 😛 . It is fun to tear apart, or even try to defend, these types of half formed statements.

  4. javeed syed
    javeed syed says:

    I am going to put them in as, the ones making the meal. But I thought
    there was to argue about in the arbitrary metaphor to start .

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