catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The use of math in economics

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Abiola Lapite opines

…why is it that people who espouse ideologies like anarcho-capitalism, protectionist isolationism and socialism are so allergic to mathematically rigorous modelling of their theses? Could it be because their beliefs are more akin to a substitute religion than anything else, and they dread the prospect of having their ideas controverted by air-tight reasoning?

I think this is the ultimate explanation for the unpopularity of so-called “autistic” (i.e, neoclassical) economics amongst those who hew to the otherwise radically different ideological systems I’ve mentioned above – it prevents them from freely indulging in the sorts of meaningless high-flown rhetoric that is typical of the output of people like Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Murray Rothbard, Pat Buchanan, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri and far too many other blowhards

A commenter in Abiola’s blog points out David Friedman as an exception to this rule but otherwise I think he’s spot-on. Note that though Hayek critiqued the use of math in economics, he was really critiquing what he saw as an ‘aggregationist’ fallacy in macro economics which conferred a false sense of precision on people who reasoned with macroeconomic aggregates, ignoring the story about relative prices going on underneath. This criticism would nonetheless have been appreciated by a mathematically-oriented microeconomist.

Incidentally many years ago when Paul Krugman actually wrote about economics (something he was very good at writing about) he made similar points about the use of math in economics in this excellent piece.

Written by Admin

July 29, 2004 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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