Economics and Astrology

September 6th, 2019
by Chris

I read with interest a post on the Evonomics site, which criticises the ostensible scientific nature of economics. My response was this:-

Looking at economics from the point of view of someone trained in a hard science (Physics) and who still does some experimental work in a slightly softer one (Chemistry), I think calling economics a science is to denigrate science – unreasonably, in my eyes. I’m almost inclined to go as far as Dulce Martins (a commentator in the facebook thread following on the article) in comparing it with astrology (which, in the hands of “serious” practitioners involves a lot of mathematics and calculation).

However, I don’t. There is some merit in simplifying problems to ones we can actually solve, as long as we keep in mind that our simple model is only going to have predictive value if the environment in which it operates is constrained hugely – and that doesn’t happen in economics, as far as I can see.

Some scientific fields have also managed to grapple with problems which are extremely complex, and economics, if it were to operate as a science, would have to acknowledge that the field of economic interactions between humans is extremely complex, somewhat more complex than sociology, which is ideally somewhat more complex than psychology, which is itself a field too complex for much in the way of mathematical treatment, at least so far. I am, of course, suggesting that economics depends on sociology and so on through this progression, which might ignore the existence of emergent phenomena which actually *are* simpler in form than the underlying fields, but I see no good evidence that this applies in the case of economics, at least so far.

One might suggest that economics could be regarded as, to some extent, an experimental science, in that we have had experiments with Keynsianism (which, it seems to me, did quite well for a while until mechanisms it didn’t provide for came into play) and with Freidmanism (which experiment, it seems to me, failed pretty much from the start, then failed disastrously, but is still being doubled down on). I just note in that case that, if I am to be an experimental subject for an economic experiment, I require to have given informed consent… 😉

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