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Economics…A Science? Surely Not

Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, On the one hand on the other.

Harry S Truman

I have long thought that if they give out Nobel Prizes for economics they should probably start to look at handing them out for homeopathy as well. The issue I have with economics/economists is the lack of robustness/predictability in any of their models.

For example I can take Newtons laws of motion and from them deduce the position of the planets in the solar system at any given time. Economists on the other hand have predicted 7 out of the last 3 recessions.

The issue being that in science extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Consider the lengths research teams around the world are going to disprove recently published work that hints at faster than light travel in neutrino’s. Economics does not self correct in this way.

Consider the following abstract

Do economists accept absurd and unsupported claims about reality, and if so, why? We define four types of claims commonly made in economics that require different types of evidence, and show examples of each from the rational addiction literature. Claims about real world causal mechanisms and welfare effects seem poorly supported. A survey mailed to all researchers with peer-reviewed work on rational addiction theory provides some evidence that criteria for evaluating claims of pure theory and statistical prediction are better understood than those needed for claims of causality or welfare analysis. We suggest that unsupported claims about real world causality or welfare may be accepted in parts of economics provided they derive from a formally correct model consistent with certain types of (often aggregate) data. The rational addiction literature illustrates that this can lead to absurd and unjustified claims being made and accepted in even highly-ranked journals.

:Ole Rogeberg, Hans Olav Melberg (2011) Acceptance of unsupported claims about reality: a blind spot in economics, 29-52. In Journal of Economic Methodology 18 (1).

It would seem that empirical evidence is not a big thing among economists. What is more important is a cohesive narrative and that the cohesion of this narrative is all the evidence that is required. That is if the history of economics is intact, unbroken and seemingly logical then there is no need for experimentation and its evil offspring empirical data.



  1. Coincidentally, a few lines from a book I’m currently reading:
    “In the late 1940’s, economics divorced itself from its former allies in political science, philosophy and law and sought a new alliance with the hard sciences of applied mathematics and physics. It is ironic that economics aligned with the classic physics of causality at exactly the time physicists themselves were embracing uncertainty and complexity. It’s illuminating to take 1947, the year of publication of Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis, as an arbitrary dividing line between the age of economics as social science and the new age of economics as natural science.”

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