David R. Henderson  

Ed Leamer on "Pure" Economics

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Messieur Walras...was one of the first "mathematical economists," who chose the title Elements of Pure Economics for his 1874 book...Do you wonder what is "pure" economics? It's not an epithet, like pure baloney. "Pure" is a reference to the language in which the argument is expressed. Graphs are the totems of the religion and math the language of the Priests. Unlike accessible prose, which comes with inherent humility, when the Priests pray before their totems and chant in math, it is altogether natural for the rest of us to perceive no limits to their powers. But be careful. Be very careful. Don't be seduced by the language of the story and the confidence of the storyteller. "Pure" is part of the salesmanship.
This is from Chapter 10 of Edward Leamer, Macroeconomic Patterns and Stories: A Guide for MBAs.

San Jose State University economics professor Matthew Holian calls the book "refreshing" and especially recommends Chapter 10.

UPDATE: Russ Roberts interviewed Ed Leamer on this here. HT to Lewis Woods.

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CATEGORIES: Macroeconomics

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Adam writes:

That explains why Hayek's "Pure Theory of Capital" was absolutely unreadable.

Jack writes:

Leamer's take seems to parallel McCloskey's (rhetoric of economics). But it also seems to put down the significant achievement of boiling down economics, in all its human messiness, to a set of clear mathematics providing a useful baseline.

mick writes:

There is nothing wrong with math as long as it is calculating something real. The problem is macroeconomic obscurantism, where brilliant people use hard and irrelevant equations to hide behind weak ideas.

fundamentalist writes:

I have never understood why people consider Hayek's "Pure Theory of Capital" unreadable. I have read it three times and consider it brilliant. And I have only average intelligence.

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