Arnold Kling  

The Messiness of Economic Analysis

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In summing up his reaction to Gregory Clark's book, Tyler Cowen writes,


Greg wants an explanation with a Malthusian or a Ricardian rigor and logic. I believe our explanations will be more like those of history than of economics. That means lots of variables, lots of messiness in the causal chains, unclear predictive power, and the accretion of knowledge bringing less rather than more simplicity.

My not-yet-published review of Clark's book comes to the same conclusion as Cowen. As Cowen puts it,

When it comes to what happened, Greg brings two new interrelated but distinct hypotheses to the table, namely labor quality and downward mobility. That's two new hypotheses, and he makes a good case for each of them...

As I read Greg, he wants to replace extant explanations with his story. In my creative "rereading" of Greg, I want to add his two factors to extant explanations.


Exactly.



COMMENTS (3 to date)
dave.s. writes:

Right now I am reading How The West Grew Rich, by Rosenberg and Birdzell (Basic Books 1986). It's a spectacularly good book, makes me notice again how much good stuff gets lost having gone down the river as new books get written. It's big on institutions allowing capitol accumulation and encouraging risk taking.

I plan to read Clark later, but find it hard to imagine that I'll think his new ideas should replace these well-buttressed old ones.

Unit writes:

Why isn't comparative advantage enough to explain the sudden growth? The benefits from trade arise as soon as people start trading, but to do that effectively you need a certain amount of technology, e.g. steam engines.

In fact I wonder about Bryan's hypothetical of a few posts ago, "what if the American revolution failed?": in the century after 1776, England dropped its tariffs and launched the industrial revolution, would this have happened had the founding fathers been crushed?

spencer writes:

Could you comment on the Barney Frank editorial in today's Boston Globe.

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