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Physics envy is a terrible thing, especially in economists


A Cambridge political economist explains:

A funny thing happened on its way to becoming a science: economics seldom tested its premises empirically. Only in recent years has there been serious investigation of its core assumptions and, all too often, they’ve been found wanting.

Unlike in physics, there are no universal and immutable laws of economics. You can’t will gravity out of existence. But as the recurrence of speculative bubbles shows, you can unleash ‘animal spirits’ so that human behaviour and prices themselves defy economic gravity. Change the social context – in economic parlance, change the incentive structure – and people will alter their behaviour to adapt to the new framework.

That’s something that ‘physics envy’ can’t capture – that the social nature of human beings makes any laws of behaviour tentative and contextual. In fact, the very term ‘social science’ is probably best seen as an oxymoron.

John Rapley, “Few things are as dangerous as economists with physics envy” at Aeon

“Social science” is not just an “oxymoron”; it is a form of corruption. The Sokal hoax, which has brought so much ridicule on social science disciplines, would be impossible without the pretense that these pursuits are sciences.

If these pursuits are art, not science, the art is only crazy when the artist is. And one can choose which artist to follow.

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Like many social sciences, Economics has several competing schools, each with its own theories. And so if you're a Keynesian, then events in the real world that appear to support Keynes's ideas are played up. And events that refute those ideas are ignored. The Misesians reply in kind. I read on the Mises Institute page some years back there was no great economic theory responsible for the Hyper-Inflation in Germany in the 1920s. (Hint: the Allies priced the WW1 Reparations in GERMAN currency. So if the exchange rate for a new mark is 1/1,000 of the gold of a pre-wr mark, the reparations are a WHOLE lot easier for the Germans to pay...) All that was needed was REALLY bad management by people with no real world experience. As soon as the amateurs were replaced, standard-issue work-a-day financiers brought the inflation to an end. I lean Misesian, in part because he starts by encouraging Libertarian politics (taxes are theft, etc.). People who lean Socialist can't even bring themselves to admit Misesians exist. vmahuna
There seems to be an unjustified segue there from economics to social science. aarceng
Economic behavior is thoroughly lawful and predictable. Bubbles have been rising and popping for thousands of years, and the people who CREATE bubbles know exactly how to do it, and exactly how to manipulate the pop so they're out before it happens. The laws have been written since at least 700 AD. The problem isn't with the consistency of economic behavior. The problem is that modern "economists" have no connection at all to the known and written laws of economic behavior. Modern "economists" are hired as tools by the people who know how to blow up and pop bubbles. They are old-fashioned shills, like the "doctor" on TV who recommends a certain brand of drug. polistra

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