Economists need to explain what they do betterby Jonathan Derbyshire / November 13, 2015 / Leave a comment
The economist Dani Rodrik, a professor at Harvard, recently spent a couple of years at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. In his new book, “Economics Rules: Why Economics Works, When it Fails, and How to Tell the Difference,” he recalls just what a “mind-stretching experience” that sojourn was. He found that many of the visitors to the Institute’s School of Social Sciences, prominent academics from other disciplines, harboured a deep “suspicion toward economists.” Those visitors seemed to believe, he writes, that “economists either stated the obvious or greatly overreached by applying simple frameworks to complex social phenomena.” It felt, Rodrik says, as if economists were being cast as the “idiots savants of social science: good with math and statistics, but not much use otherwise.”
Part of the problem, Rodrik thinks, is “misinformation” about what it is economists do, exactly. “Economics Rules” is in part, therefore, an attempt to set the record straight—and to rebut some fairly widespread criticisms of economics in the process. But it’s also aimed at his colleagues in the economics profession, who he thinks have made a sorry fist of “presenting their science to the world.” When I spoke to him on the phone from the United States this week, I asked about that assumption he’d encountered at Princeton—that economists are “good with math and statistics” and not much else.