Monday, May 28, 2007

How to think

Reflecting on an essay in the Nation, Dani Rodrik writes:

Some years ago, when I first presented an empirical paper questioning some of the conventional views on trade to a high profile economics conference, a member of the audience ... shocked me with the question "why are you doing this?"

On the other hand I have never found neoclassical methodology too constraining when it comes to thinking about the real world in novel and unconventional ways. .... To me it represents nothing other than a methodological predilection for deriving aggregate social phenomena from individual behavior--and as such it is a very useful discipline for any social science. You say people have some preferences, they face certain constraints, take others' actions into account, and go from there.

Neoclassical economics teaches you how to think, not what to think. So it has always been a bit difficult for me to understand the critique that neoclassical economics is necessarily driven by ideology or leads to foregone conclusions.

Rodrik is the Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Another new blogger, labor economist George Borjas (Harvard), also notes The Nation article and remarks:
The article leaves unexplored one interesting anthropological aspect of Life Among the Econ: its herd mentality. The kind of research many economists do is motivated by, well, by the fact that other economists are doing it too.



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