Blogging economics

Posted: 29 June 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

They’re at it again, telling noneconomists to just shut up and listen—to “real” economists.

That’s the message Kartik Athreya has for all those people out there who have the audacity to produce and disseminate ideas about economic issues and events without having a Ph.D. in economics. They should just stop their “sophmoric musings” and let economic scientists, who engage in “such careful work with its explicit, careful reasoning, its ever-mindful approach to the accounting for feedback effects, and its transparent reproducibility,” determine what appropriate economic knowledge is. (The essay, “Economics is Hard. Don’t Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise,” is no longer available on the link reproduced by others. I found it here.)

My first response, which is really too easy, is that Athreya’s timing is all wrong. He’s asking us to bow down to exactly those neoclassical economists who got us into this mess in the first place. Sure, their models are hard: they’re hard to build and manipulate, and they’re hard to understand. You really do need a Ph.D. in economics to work your way through the mathematics. But that certainly doesn’t make the models correct. It’s up to folks who have learned the math and the models to debunk them.

But that still leaves the larger question: are people who “who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams)” merely doing “ersatz” economics—a pale imitation of “real” economics—or are there different, incommensurable economic knowledges? On the latter view, there are different knowledges within academic economics (including neoclassical, Keynesian, Marxian, etc. knowledges), different economic knowledges in other academic disciplines (from cultural studies and anthropology to sociology and literary criticism), and different economic knowledges outside the academy (including among bloggers). Athreya wants to certify some of these knowledges as “serious science” and everything else—inside academic economics, in disciplines other than economics, and outside the academy—as nonsense.

Mind you, I don’t necessarily agree with many of the ideas disseminated in economics blogs, whether by economists or noneconomists. But it’s not a matter of ruling them out as ersatz economics. The modernist protocols of scientism can’t guarantee appropriate knowledges with respect to macroeconomics, just as they can’t provide guarantees when it comes to analyzing the causes and consequences (to use Athreya’s examples) the tsunami in East Asia or the earthquake in Haiti.

Only a fool would argue that, because “economics is hard,” only those who have completed “Ph.D. coursework in a decent economics department” should be allowed into the discussion.

  1. […] unrelated, Ruccio has a nice post on the anti-blog essay that has gotten so much attention the last few days. I’ll just chime […]

  2. Kasey Dufresne says:

    Just wanted to add two things, from my perspective as a student. Apart from blogs, this idea that economic knowledge is a privilege for “economists” is a wider problem I’ve seen at the university, where many students of anthropology or sociology are made to feel that they do not understand economics because they have not taken advanced math courses, even when they are studying globalization or the family, just from their disciplinary perspective. And secondly, it is honestly not clear to me that Ph.D trained economists necessarily understand much about the economy anyway. It seems to me that young economics professors really know very little economics outside of their sub-sub-discipline, and do not realize that areas such as economic anthropology even exist, much less know what economic anthropologists do. Many times, I have seen students ask questions, about the crisis and current events, and the economics professor dismisses the topic to cover the textbook material. As a student interested in the economic crisis, all I can say is I am very thankful for the blogs 🙂

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