Archive for the 'science' Category

Economics Will Not Be Mocked

December 1, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

A few years ago I read and studied in great detail Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on globalization “Caritas in Veritate” or “Charity in Truth.” I posted a three-part analysis on the doubtful economics contained therein at ThinkMarkets. The first part is about the destructive influence of the encyclical. The second part is about globalization. The third part is about the attack on classical liberalism.

Shortly thereafter, I went to a conference that included discussion by economists of the encyclical. There were almost no defenders of the pope’s economics. In fact, I was told by one participant not to waste my time in a detailed examination of papal ideas relating to economics. No one in places of intellectual or policy influence much cares what the pope says. I was told that I care only because of my sixteen years of Catholic education. Perhaps this is all true; I do not know.  Nevertheless, the pope is worth listening to and reacting to because, in the modern world, there are few attempts by prominent public figures to address moral issues honestly.

The current statement of the “social gospel” by Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel” is less authoritative than the previous encyclical by Benedict insofar as it is considered simply an “apostolic exhortation” or pastoral letter. However, the ideas expressed are in keeping with the recent Church teaching. (Nevertheless, one cannot help thinking that Pope John-Paul II’s economics in the encyclical “Centesimus Annus” was much better than that expressed by the two most recent popes.)

I will not go into the details of the current letter because I think my previous comments on Pope Benedict at ThinkMarkets effectively cover most of these. I want now simply to make a “meta-critique” of Pope Francis’s letter only insofar as it deals with issues that have economic content. Read the rest of this entry »

Top Young Economists Consider Their Future

July 27, 2012

by Roger Koppl

Ali Wyne of the big think  blog “Power Games”  recently posted an interesting set of comments on the theme “Empirics and Psychology: Eight of the World’s Top Young Economists Discuss Where Their Field Is Going.”  George Mason’s own Peter Leeson  was among the eight “top young economists” sharing their views.

Over at New APPS, the philosopher Eric Schliesser  summarizes the eight comments. “Bottom line: due to low cost computing and a data rich environment the future of economics is data-mining (this was clear from at least four of the comments). This is especially so because the young stars have lost faith in homo economicus (due to behavioral work and the crisis).”

Eric’s summary seems about right to me. There were eight fine minds sharing eight different visions, but two related themes dominated the comments. 1) The old rationality assumption is in trouble and we don’t quite know what to do about it. 2) Economics should be more data-driven now that we have what William Brock has labeled “dirt-cheap computing.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Defense of the Koch Brothers and Academic Freedom

May 25, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Recently, there has been a ruckus, as discussed in today’s Wall Street Journal,  over some grants to Florida State University from  Charles and David Koch to support professorships in economics. The objections seem to be that the Koch money will be used to support right-wing ideologues who, presumably, will indoctrinate the students. Furthermore, this would seem to be a violation of academic freedom – or so the critics argue – because the Kochs like to promote free-market ideas and not pro state-control ideas. Read the rest of this entry »

More Scholarship, Less “Science”

April 29, 2011

by Mario Rizzo

Once upon a time, in a land far away from New York civilization, a famous economist told a good friend of mine that “we” need more scientists and fewer scholars in the economics profession. He was serious.

This is the time of year that many Ph.D. dissertations are being defended in graduate departments of economcs. We have many would-be scientists and almost no scholars. I think we need more scholars and fewer scientists. Read the rest of this entry »

Generalizations in the Social Sciences

April 1, 2011

by Gene Callahan

On his blog, Daniel Kuehn notes that “relations in economies are not stable.” In fact, we can go further:  Relations in the social sciences are not stable. As an illustration, consider Zipf’s Law as applied to city size.

In 1700, London had about 575,000 people. According to Zipf’s Law, the next-sized city should have had about 280,000 or 290,000 thousand. What was the actual size of the second largest city? As far as I can determine, it was Norwich, with a population of about 30,000. (My source for the population figures is 1688: The First Modern Revolution.) Zipf’s “Law” is off by a factor of about ten in this instance.

What I suspect is that there is some historical circumstance that leads to Zipf’s Law applying to city size in recent centuries, which was not present in 1700. As political scientist Terry Nardin put it: “Generalizations about how people usually behave are not scientific generalizations about a truly time-independent class of phenomena; they are more or less well-disguised descriptions of customs specific to a particular historical situation.”

Update on Government and Science

January 27, 2011

by Bill Butos

The New York Times of January 22 reports that the Obama administration has created a “billion-dollar government drug development center to help create medicines”  as part of the federally funded National Institutes of Health.

According to the article, its rationale is to undertake research leading to the commercial development of drugs that has mysteriously lagged in the U.S. The article makes no mention of the regulatory costs drug firms face. Read the rest of this entry »

Predictably Rational: A Brilliant Book by Richard B. McKenzie

December 26, 2010

by Mario Rizzo 

This is the time of the year that various publications recommend Christmas books or the best books of 2010. (I have never known what a Christmas — or summer – book is. Are they supposed to be light reading? I don’t believe in reading “light.” When I am in the mood for that, I watch TV.)  In any event, I have a serious book to recommend.

Every so often a brilliant book comes out on a topic of great academic importance that is in danger of not getting the attention it deserves. I am thinking about Predictably Rational: In Search of Defenses for Rational Behavior in Economics by Richard B. McKenzie. Read the rest of this entry »

What is Truth in Science?

December 20, 2010

by Jerry O’Driscoll

In the “Annals of Science,” Jonah Lehrer asks “is there something wrong with the scientific method?” He poses the question in an article entitled “The Truth Wears Off” in the December 13, 2010 issue of The New Yorker (pp. 52-57). The problem is that across disciplines “claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable.”

It is a problem of being unable to reproduce results in subsequent experiments.  Even scientists who perform the original experiment cannot reproduce their own results.  The pattern is that, over time, results become less strong or even disappear. Read the rest of this entry »

Further Thoughts on The Sensory Order

December 4, 2010

by Roger Koppl

Over at Austrian Addiction, Dan D’Amico responds to my recent post on The Sensory Order.  Dan wants to know “what Hayek’s theory of neuorscience is really adding here that a more basic understanding of subjective preferences does not already imply?”  Dan is not the only one with this question.  I think enthusiasts for The Sensory Order have given pretty good answers to Dan’s question, but it seems clear that we need to do a better job. Read the rest of this entry »

Scientism in the Way of Science

November 30, 2010

by Gene Callahan

I repeatedly find attacks on positions in the social sciences made based on extremely limited and, frankly, antiquated views of how the physical sciences proceed. I will give one example from a rightist criticism of a leftist view, and one that is a leftist criticism of a rightist view, to illustrate that my point has nothing to do with ideology — or perhaps, that it has to do with the way ideology can lead one to embrace flimsy criticisms of other’s positions.

The first excerpt is from Hunter Lewis’s book, Where Keynes Went Wrong:

“In chapter 15, we saw how Keynes wrote N = F(D), which means that employment, denoted N, is a function of demand. Demand however is defined as expected sales, not actual sales. We noted that expectations are not a measurable quantity and thus do not belong in an equation.”

Well, one way to measure these expectations would be to walk around and ask the entrepreneurs “How much do you expect to sell this year?” then total up those amounts. Why in the world this would not be a fine measurable quantity is unclear. Read the rest of this entry »

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