Rodrik supports the mathematical nature of economics as bringing clarity of meaning, and argues that the subject is far more applied and empirical than its detractors realise. But he criticises large-scale macro models and time series regressions. “I cannot think of an important economic insight that has come out of such models,” he writes. He also flags up the lack of testability of many economic models: they purport to be deductions from theoretical principles, but as they are ‘deduced’ to explain a particular phenomenon (credit rationing, say), then that phenomenon cannot be used to test the model. “Very few of the models that economists work with have ever been rejected so decisively that the profession discarded them as clearly false.”
Pointer from Mark Thoma.
My line is that economists deal in non-falsifiable interpretive frameworks. Read Coyle’s entire post. She makes Rodrik sound like someone I would agree with, although not everything I have read of him would indicate that.
The conversation between Tyler Cowen and Dani Rodrik keeps circling back to methodological issues. For example, Rodrik is wary of overrating randomized control trials. Rodrik suggests that graduate students should spend more time in the real world.
I keep thinking of the quote of Minsky writing that economists are well trained but not well educated. You are trained to solve equations. Nowadays you are trained to do the sort of narrow empirical studies that Rodrik thinks are overrated. But you are not educated in history or financial institutions or secular changes in the economy.
Also, Noah Smith has more to say.
philosophical empiricism is far more frightening for economists than for natural scientists. Living in a world of theoryderp is easy and comforting. Moving from that world into a Popperian void of uncertainty and frustration is a daunting prospect. But that is exactly what the credibility revolution demands.
Read the whole post. As I read it, he thinks that economists will have to reconcile themselves to less theory and more empirical work. I do not really agree:
1. I think that economists rely a lot on what I call interpretive frameworks. These do not have standing in philosophical empiricism, because they are not falsifiable.
2. Philosophical empiricism does not provide a guide to evaluating interpretive frameworks. Unfortunately, economists have not thought about this question. Frameworks become popular because they are tractable or interesting, and they stay popular without ever being evaluated for usefulness.
3. I think that an interpretive framework is strong if it offers explanations in many contexts, if it does not encounter too many anomalies (phenomena that seem to run counter to the framework), and if it is reinforced by other beliefs.
4. Supply and demand is an example of an interpretive framework that is very strong. That is, it seems to explain a lot, one rarely encounters anomalies, and it is consistent with other beliefs that we tend to hold.
5. Keynesian macro is an example of an interpretive framework that is not very strong. Many anomalies have cropped up over the decades: the ability of the U.S. economy to rebound after World War II in spite of the staggering drop in government spending; the breakdown of the Phillips Curve in the 1970s; the failure of many Keynesian stimulus policies in many countries, including the U.S. And Keynesian macro is notoriously inconsistent with many other beliefs that economists tend to hold.