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The world is now more complicated than ever. We are all building upon the shoulders of our forerunners. We cannot understand where everything came from and how everything has evolved, and hence we don't understand how everything interacts. But the building blocks of the world today interact with each other intensively and sometimes unnoticeably. And clearly, it is hard to follow every lead to calculate every interaction's influence. I mention this because in macroeconomics many effects can cause secondary effects and these secondary effects may also cause tertiary effects, so it seems to me like an unending loop.

Thus it seems to me that in macroeconomics we use statistics to find associations and then try to explain certain associations using intuitive notions (maybe a dominant underlying reason) given the results. It seems to me that results in macroeconomics cannot be rigorously argued like the ones in mathematics or even physics. Rather these results are merely approximations learned from the past which are not confirmed each time like the laws in physics, let alone mathematical theorems.

So is what I am saying correct or is it simply that I do not understand macroeconomics enough?

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    $\begingroup$ Funnily enough, "a rough experience or approximation learned from the past" better describes physics than it does economics $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Jun 14 '15 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ Some early theories of natural sciences were also quite wrong (the four elements, aether) and some where disproved or refined by measurements. What we see today is a selected history of physics showing mostly the triumphs. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Jun 14 '15 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ @emeryville sought to post this useful comment: "Dani Rodrik in his new book Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of The Dismal Science also touches this important question." (Once emeryville reaches reputation 50 he can post here and I can delete my comment.) $\endgroup$ – Giskard Nov 8 '15 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ but now the trend we see today in physics, is that theory is ahead of boservaiton and is rarely proven wrong by observation. $\endgroup$ – Revoltic Nov 8 '15 at 22:08
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At the very foundation of sciences like Physics, rest relations and properties that they just are, no explanation can be given, but they have been found directly or indirectly to continue to hold, or at least to change at an inconsequential rate compared to the time-span (or space-span) of humans.

Moreover, although Physics laws are also idealizations of reality (and they hold under "normal circumstances", too, as regards for example temperature or pressure), it has been found that a) "normal circumstances" abound, b) these idealized versions suffer negligible variation in the real world for any of (or most) practical purposes and c) what happens under "special circumstances" is also stable, a complementary law in essence.

For Mathematics, the foundations are also arbitrary, but not being of this world but purely mental concepts, they can be whatever we define them to be -no reality will come crushing in to refute them (it is a different matter when we want to map abstract Mathematics to the real world).

In the Social Sciences, to which Economics belongs, the foundations contain relations and properties that have been found to change over time and over space, at rates much higher than physical properties change, and certainly within the time-span and space-span of humans. Plus, the observed variation around their idealized formulation is much larger.

This is what makes Social Sciences much more treacherous and harder than the Hard Sciences, and this is why progression towards more universally valid results is so much slower, or even, the arrival at a bouquet of results for which we will know with enough certainty to which observed relations do they correspond.

"It seems to me that results in macroeconomics cannot be rigorously argued like the ones in mathematics or even physics."

Results in Economics can be fully rigorously argued, ever since Economics adopted mathematical symbolism to express itself. The issue is not with the process of argumentation, but with the premises one starts from.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think in this organized essay, what you have said cleared up a lot confusions I had and brought up some new ideas. Thank you so much :-). However, have you considered whether the very basic thing we use to prove things, the logic we use in proofs, will evolve over time? I used to believe logic is something we have developed by observing and learning to make associations in the nature, the reality. So if that is true, everything we studied is somehow associated to nature. And this is exactly why the results in physics and even mathematics and economics fits so well in the nature world. $\endgroup$ – Kun Jun 16 '15 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Kun I am glad my answer helped. Going into epistemology (i.e. thinking about logic and methodology itself), is a very interesting subject but a truly endless one. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Jun 16 '15 at 22:35
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Is economics a science based more on statistics (observations) rather than rigorous reasoning?

I would like to reformulate the question ;

Should economics be a science based more on statistics rather than rigorous reasoning ?

Theory and empirics are both very important and they are complementary rather than substitutes. So, the immediate answer is both of them. There are some guys who are telling that theory is just "entertainement" and emprics/data is the science. Note that this kind of view is somewhat risky because rigrous reasoning (or mathematical models) is necessary in order to understand economic mechanisms that we could hardly understand without these models and econometricians are here to look at it if the "story" of the model fits the reality or in which circumstances it fits to it.

Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth could be an interesting lecture about the question that you have asked.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi @dismalscience, since now I have now rep let me add this comment: Dani Rodrik in his new book "Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of The Dismal Science" (drodrik.scholar.harvard.edu/publications/…) also touches this important question. $\endgroup$ – emeryville Nov 9 '15 at 4:36

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