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Economics as craft

From Dani Rodrik's blog by Dani Rodrig:

I have an article in the IAS’s quarterly publication, the Institute Letter, on the state of Economics.  Despite the evident role of the economics profession in the recent crisis and my critical views on conventional wisdom in globalization and development, my take on the discipline is rather positive.

Where we frequently go wrong as economists is to look for the “one right model” – the single story that provides the best universal explanation.  Yet, the strength of economics is that it provides a panoply of context-specific models. The right explanation depends on the situation we find ourselves in. Sometimes the Keynesians are right, sometimes the classicals. Markets work sometimes along the lines of competitive models and sometimes along monopolistic models.The craft of economics consists on being able to diagnose which of the models apply best in a given historical and geographical context.

This is how my article opens:

When the 2013 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (colloquially known as the “Economics Nobel”) was awarded to Eugene Fama and Robert Shiller, along with Lars Peter Hansen, many were puzzled by the selection. Fama and Shiller are both distinguished and highly-regarded scholars, so it was not their qualifications that raised eyebrows. What seemed odd was that the committee had picked them together.

After all, the two economists seem to hold diametrically opposed views on how financial markets work. Fama, the University of Chicago economist, is the father of the “efficient market hypothesis,” the theory that asset prices reflect all publicly available information, with the implication that it is impossible to beat the market consistently. Shiller, the Yale economist, meanwhile has spent much of his career demonstrating financial markets work poorly: they overshoot, are subject to “bubbles” (sustained rises in asset prices that cannot be explained by fundamentals), and are often driven by “behavioral” rather than rational forces. Could both these scholars be right? Was the Nobel committee simply hedging its bets?

You can read the rest here.


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