Amartya Sen on Mathematics
Over on Lars P. Syll's Blog HERE
he reports an interview of Amartya Sen by Olaf Storbeck and Dorit Hess on the state of modern economics from 24 July.
Among the topics discussed by Sen he comments on the role of mathematics in economics in a far more positive slant than I often give it on Lost Legacy.
While I accept that mathematics is a useful gateway for students to gain admission to an economics degree course at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, etc., I question its overly prominent role for mathematics in economics theory and practice.
Statistics, yes, and perhaps there is a role for elementary maths to assist reasoning, but rigorous higher maths? I am less sure, especially when the maths take over and the economics becomse divorced from any resemblance with reality.
If economists cannot distinguish between a philosophical assumption of self-interest of an individual and miss the absolute requirement of Smith's assumption that the postulated self-interest of an individual requires to be mediated by concerns for, and attention to, the self-interests of others, as is the clear case with modern treatments of Adam Smith’s elementary example of bargaining with the “butcher, brewer, baker” example, then I worry about the conclusions drawn by mathematical economists that Smith somehow postulated that self-interested individuals pursuing their narrow self-interests (tariffs, monopolies, pollution and such like) somehow leads to general pubic benefits, as asserted in the usual attribution to Smith's "invisible hand". Such reasoning is an absurdity from which competence in maths does not save them
I suggest readers visit Lars P. Syll’s Blog and read it regularly. It is thought provoking.