We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

So many economists today spend more and more time mastering higher-level mathematics and econometric techniques that they simply never master basic microeconomics.  These economists (from my reading of him, I judge Piketty to be among them) take their fluency in statistics and their skill at quantitative-data gathering for being a fluency in, and skill at doing, economics.  They are mistaken.  And while their error is too-often masked to the general public by their formal credentials as professional economists, their error is never hidden from genuinely skilled economists such as Deirdre McCloskey.

– Don Boudreaux, of Cafe Hayek. The whole item is worth a read, as is the McCloskey item at the Cato Institute to which he links.  And let’s not forget Samizdata’s own Perry Metzger’s marvellous “shoe event horizon” takedown of Piketty a few months ago.

8 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Laird

    Boudreaux is one of the best economists writing today. His articles are always worth reading.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post.

    And quite so Laird.

    The substitution of mathematics (especially statistics) for real economic reasoning is not new.

    Sir William Perry (the follower of Thomas Hobbes who was, in turn, Francis Bacon’s man) was doing it – way back in the 1600s.

    Government economic “planning” is not made any more rational by throwing around lots of stats and then playing with them.

    However, many highly “educated” fools act as if mathematics could act as a substitute for reasoning.

  • RRS

    My personal favorite is Coase’s epithet:

    Blackboard Economists

  • RRS

    P M

    Quite so.

    Mathematics is only a language. Language is to convey thought.

    Using mathematics as the language will not substitute for deficiencies of thought.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    McCloskey will be speaking in London in a few weeks: see this link for event details.

  • It sort of reminds me of a quip from the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington,

    “It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory.”

    What he meant is that curve-fitting onlu goes so far. Without a theory (in this case microeconomics) all the stats and curves means nothing.

  • RRS

    Several McCloskey talks are on You Tube.

    The two books, Virtues and Dignity, of the Bourgeois set are dense with words and references as must be in contesting accepted “wisdom.”

    Both are recommended with the suggestion that one may gain by reading the commentaries of others on parts of her critiques, then re-read the texts; and, most certainly, from her own other writings and talks.

    It may also be helpful to consider Virtues in terms of human motivations.

    Her work dovetails with the research of Alan Macfarlane.
    One can find other empirical confirmations in the scholarship of Emmanuel Todd.

    There is just a lot of stuff coming together out there.

  • There is a lot of time spent on statistics and other quantitative classes in an graduate economics program. A course in managerial economics and a class in micro theory might be all a student gets on that side of the ledger at the graduate level, while they likely had two or three stats classes, a quant methods class and a couple of semesters of econometrics. I had that much in micro my doctoral program in finance, and I don’t think I’d need to take any more micro classes (maybe one) were I to look to get a PhD in econ.

    When you couple that with the higher availability of macroeconomic data, it’s easier to ignore the micro side, especially when looking to get something published without having to gather data yourself. Combine that with the leftist propensity to prefer deal with government-level macroeconomics, micro becomes somewhat of a backwater in a hurry.