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Friday, January 04, 2013

The End of Economists' Imperialism

Justin Fox says the age of economist's imperialism is ending:

The End of Economists' Imperialism, by Justin Fox: "By almost any market test, economics is the premier social science," Stanford University economist Edward Lazear wrote just over a decade ago. ...
Lazear went on to describe how economists, with the University of Chicago's Gary Becker leading the way, had been running roughshod over the other social sciences — using economic tools to study crime, the family, accounting, corporate management, and countless other not strictly economic topics. "Economic imperialism" was the name he gave to this phenomenon (and to his article, which was published in the February 2000 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics). And in his view it was a benevolent reign. "The power of economics lies in its rigor," he wrote. "Economics is scientific; it follows the scientific method of stating a formal refutable theory, testing theory, and revising the theory based on the evidence. Economics succeeds where other social scientists fail because economists are willing to abstract."
Triumphalism like that calls for a comeuppance, of course. ...

He goes on to describe how "I've found myself talking to and reading a little of the work of sociologists and political scientists, and coming away impressed with how adept they are in quantitative methods, how knowledgeable they are about economics, and how willing they are to challenge economic orthodoxy," and he gives several examples of other disciplines working in what is traditionally the realm of economists (with teasers of more to come). He ends with:

What's going on is probably not the incipient overthrow of economics. As described by Lazear, its imperialistic power has in large part been the result of its uniformity of approach over the past half century. (That, and economists have actually been right about some things.) As best I can tell, there is no such methodological consensus in sociology, political science, anthropology, or history at the moment. But the economists' consensus is wobblier than it's been in a while (especially in macro), there is ample motive for insurrection, and the non-economists' stores of intellectual ammunition are growing. Economics may well have reached the stage of imperial overstretch. Interesting times lie ahead.

    Posted by on Friday, January 4, 2013 at 12:10 PM in Economics, Methodology | Permalink  Comments (39)

          


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