How Much Can Economists Know?

There’s been a good back and forth on the econ blogosphere lately regarding the epistemology of economics. The public perception of economists is not the greatest for a variety of reasons: we (mostly) didn’t see the financial crisis coming (despite the old saw that economists have predicted 9 out of the last 5 recessions); we underestimated the size of the ensuing recession; and whatever the policy, you can almost always find economists on both sides of the issue (in other words, there seems to be little shared agreement).

To an extent, this is unfair, and largely biased due to the outsize popular fascination with macroeconomics, which is still a very new science with little data and an inability to run experiments. Still, macroeconomics is more popular for a reason: the macroeconomy is central to our livelihoods. If the country enters recession, we may not have a job any longer. I doubt there are many people who would not be interested in making the field more scientific. But can economics ever really be a science?

This type of dialogue is what makes the economics blogosphere so interesting to follow. While I won’t say *all* are required reading, I would definitely recommend the initial Roberts piece and Noah Smith’s Bloomberg column at the bare minimum.

 

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