I wrote that the economists I criticize for using mathiness are engaged in a campaign of ACADEMIC politics, not one of national politics. Whatever was true in the past, the now fight is over ACADEMIC group identity.
Pointer from Mark Thoma. Read the whole thing. My remarks:
1. As I wrote in my earlier comment on Romer, I see monopolistic competition as prevalent. Perhaps the Chicago school would want to argue that even though in practice we do not see perfect competition, if you make predictions assuming perfect competition, you will typically be correct. But I do not want to speak for Chicago.
2. Romer seems to want to march under the banner of “science” in economics, and I am skeptical of that. Reader Adam Gurri pointed me to an entire book of essays that take such a skeptical position. I am not sure that the essays speak to me, but I am still pondering.
3. In my view, as the economics profession has grown stronger in math, it has grown weaker in epistemology. That is, the generations of economists that came after Samuelson and Solow lost the ability to ask “How do we know that?” They are content to re-use equations simply because they can be found in prominent publications, but (as Noah Smith has pointed out) not because they have been verified empirically, as they would be in physics or another hard science.
There is a slight overlap between Romer’s critique and mine. Romer is saying that economists are choosing models in order to maintain “group cohesion.” I say that they are choosing models based on appeals to authority.
What I wish to claim is that epistemology in economics is really difficult. It is more difficult than in physics. We have a much harder time testing our theories experimentally. We face insurmountable levels of causal density. We do not have a neat, clean answer to the question “How do you know that?” It appears to me that physicists can answer that question in ways that are much more straightforward and compelling. (I am thinking of physics at a high school level. Maybe at the research frontier physics also faces epistemological challenges.)
Because epistemology in economics is really difficult, I think that if you care about epistemology, you are going to find much published research in economics frustrating. That will be true for articles that avoid math as well for articles that use math.