Saturday, March 11, 2017

Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions

--- Economist Hamish Low, in Exams and Expectations: The art and science of economics at Cambridge, The Economist, 24 December 2016

Quote in context:

Hamish Low, a Cambridge professor who works in applied economics, does not mourn the loss of philosopher kings’ grand intellectual debates. “Now we need to be much more evidence based”, he says. But the discipline’s development has come with a cost. The specialisation associated with expertise can encourage narrow thinking. “Disciplines are now defined too much by methods rather than by questions”, Low says. This narrowness feeds through to policy advice, which too often applies established models to current circumstances, rather than considering fundamental reinterpretions of the issues. Economists can give you an estimate of how much revenue a tax increase will raise, the income loss associated with Brexit, or the employment effects of a minimum wage rise. It calls to mind another aphorism from Keynes about economists being at their best as “humble, competent people on a level with dentists”, using their technical skill to solve pressing problems within a limited area of expertise.