Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Four economists and their views on the mathematicisation of political economy that has passed its tipping point. (Taken from a History of Economic Thought Blog, this morning).

1 "I am appalled ... by the extent to which there has been a tendency for economics to become a purely abstract branch of mathematics, no longer to be a political economy concerned with the facts of the real world but an intellectual exercise" (Milton Friedman 1985). 

2 “Indeed. I wonder how long it will be before economics 'departments' are housed in the mathematics faculty. Perhaps it has already happened somewhere."

3 “I would go further: Some argue that the culture of mathematics departments has overtaken graduate economics to the extent that realism is of lesser concern than elegance. I saw this culture first hand and when I took graduate mathematics classes as part of 
my graduate education.”

4 “Your daughter's professor was and is surely correct. Indeed, it is probably not an exaggeration to argue that a mathematics undergraduate has an easier time of it at economics graduate level than their economics counterpart. This is why we need more history of thought - and I don’t mean history of mathematics!”

5 "Yes, it has happened.  Until recently Chicago State University had a
Department of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Economics.  I believe
Economics has now been moved out of that department."

6  " Birkbeck College in London has a Department of Economics,
Mathematics and Statistics.
I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of when and if an economics
department is subsumed into a maths faculty, i.e. without the word
'economics' even making an appearance in the faculty title. But I think I
was getting ahead of myself."

7   "t also happened at Emporia State University when the Program in Economics was removed from the Social Science
Division and moved to the Department of Mathematics in Arts & Science.  Last time I looked it still is listed in the catalog
in the mathematics majors."


It is not just the mathematic techniques that led the way down this path to the cul de sac ; it was the theoretical assertions that accompanied them (rational expectations and assumed predictability of the future without studying how the historical past led to the present ).  With a multitude of schools of thought contending for our attention and the consequential stalemates of competing ideologies, economics has even less to say about the real economies of the world than our predecessors before economics replaced political economy and lost its claims to be taken seriously.


Blogger Joe Manuel said...

Economics is the beautiful language of business. However when one decides to delve into deep mathematics and becomes very abstract, it seems like speaking a language with more complex words, rather than more simple words that have already been in common use.

4:11 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Joe Manuel
Many thanks for your insightful comment.
Following your thought I think the language problem is compounded by over-playing the maths illusion because the mathematics of science represents a complex set of relationships of physical relationships which, when applied to the human economies (which contrary to the usual perspectives must include the social contributions/ influence of the politics of government) where using maths techniques is inappropriate. Humans are not predictable and their economies and government are not predictable.

6:30 pm  

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