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Are there any big, overarching research goals in economics? Examples from other fields that come to my mind:

  • Mathematics: Millenium problems, Hilbert's problems, Collatz conjecture, ...
  • Computer science: Proof of P =?= NP, quest for an exascale system
  • Biology / Medicine: Cure disease, cancer, stop ageing

Probably, economics as a (social) science is inherently not the right field for such grandiose goals, but is there anything comparable?

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  • $\begingroup$ I doubt a biologist/doctor would claim to their peers that the goal of their discipline is to cure cancer or stop ageing. (Cancer is not one ailment, neither is ageing AFAIK.) Seems like the goals of the other two disciplines are much better defined. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Dec 25 '18 at 16:32
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Yes there are. Two big ones are:

  1. Why are some nations rich and why are some nations poor?

  2. What are the causes of large scale involuntary unemployment of resources and individuals (I.e. a depression).

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Another: Why did the Industrial Revolution begin in England/Northwest Europe rather than anywhere else?

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 This is certainly a big question, albeit one might argue that it belongs under economic history rather than economics. Robert Allen's The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective is an important contribution to the debate, although there is probably much more to be said on this topic. $\endgroup$ – Adam Bailey Dec 25 '18 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ I believe economic history has always been part of economics (even if it was for many decades deprecated). $\endgroup$ – Kenny LJ Dec 25 '18 at 13:23
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Here are a few that come to mind.

  • Bargaining: How are bargaining outcomes determined?
  • Market failure: Why do markets fail, and what are the welfare consequences of their failures? Suppose the answers include moral hazard, limited commitment, adverse selection, and externalities. Then, how can governments or private entities counteract these problems and their associated welfare losses?
  • Macroforecasting: Is it possible to forecast macroeconomic and financial time series with enough accuracy to be useful for policy, corporate, or personal decision-making?
  • Market structure: How is market structure determined, and how does market structure affect output and consumer welfare?
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It is very subjective since as you stated economics does not assess goals of immediate perception. But let's think about it, consider a great branch of macroeconomics, growth theory: deepening the knowledge of the causes of growth yields higher welfare, and with this word we consider also technological and medical growth. Not bad, I would say. Let's try with another example, models of credit scoring. Being able to correctly evaluate a potential borrower and the level of risk of a lender entails financial stability which avoids catastrophic crises, with relevant consequences on every discipline. Last example, market normative regulation. Protecting consumer from firms' abuses consents to maximize consumer's surplus. An happy consumer is an happy citizen, happy citizens ensures social and political stability. These are few (and subjective) examples that point out an important message: economics is the base on which modern societies have built their foundations, a well oiled economic machine consent to reach those great human discoveries that you pointed out in your message.

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