Arnold Kling  

Math Snobbery

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I discuss David Warsh's Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations in my latest essay.

David Warsh, a uniquely dedicated journalist, turns economics into melodrama. He takes a number of risks, both in terms of content and style, and not all of them work. But in the end, I believe that the reader will come away from his book with some understanding of how a set of important economic theories were developed and how they relate to one another.

But Warsh comes across as a math snob, much like the MIT types that are at the heart of his story. Comparing the institutional economists with the mathematical theorists, I write,

My sense is that there are more mathematical growth theorists who are somewhat receptive to the New Institutional Economics than the other way around. I am not certain what to make of that. My sense is that many (but not all) mathematical growth theorists tend to favor activist government, but New Institutional Economists often hang out on the libertarian fringe. I am not certain what to make of that, either.

By the way, Warsh's Economic Principals column, which he updates on Mondays, is worth reading regularly.

Update: Robert Musil has worries about the robustness of conclusions drawn from mathematical models, including Romer's and Krugman's.

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Roger M writes:

I think it would help if math economists would follow the example of their physics brothers and test their models on the real world. It seems to me that physicists are pretty good at abandoning models that can't find support in real world experiments. But math economists seem opposed to this for some reason.

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