Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Economic Science, or Why UAF Should Offer Economics as a B.Sc.

I'll admit I never watched the Walter Block video. Having blocked YouTube to increase my productivity, it will be at least spring break until I do. That being noted, I've managed to combine my preconceptions about Walter Block with the information given by my sweet colleagues to give myself some context. I hope I'm not too far off mark.

Economics, like any other science, rests on a basic Cartesian foundation of reasoning. As with any other science, knowledge must be supported through induction, deduction, and abduction. Every economist not itching to rekindle debates settled four centuries ago ought to agree with this. Even Austrian economists, who argue that only deductive reasoning from a handful of principles is useful, should accept the validity of a of non-deductive economic argument if it contains the requisite logical soundness. Thus, while a presumption against certain varieties of reasoning may be useful, a principled disuse of them is not. Such anti-scientific thinking would have no place in a modern economics textbook, no less an economics school.

While I do not consider economists who disavow hard data to be anti-science, I believe their methodology too often resembles such thinking. I understand the complexity of isolating variables in a complex world full of complex people, but that challenge is not unique to economics. Just as Thermodynamics can be derived from a falling apple and not total knowledge of all celestial bodies, the Law of Demand can be derived from experiments which reveal a customer's maximum willingness to pay for a good at a given quantity. No intimate knowledge of every price in the market is needed to support the law, just the absence of contradictory evidence. This is where economic studies have been useful. Indeed, they have demonstrated where such theories conform to the real world and where they require revision. Where they fail to do so, blame should be attributed to flaws in the study, not to flaws in studies.

2 comments:

  1. "Thermodynamics can be derived from a falling apple"? Can it? I'm not being facetious; I'm not a physicist so I've never heard of that. I know a falling apple can inspire someone to develop a theory of gravity -- which helps with the celestial bodies part.

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