Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why economics isn't a science

Some unredeemable fools claim that various and sundry economists, notably Friedrich Hayek, are "empirical". This is unbelievable bullshit, but to appreciate the absurdity of that statement, one must know what 'empirical' means in the first place. Which is something economists uniformly don't know.

What does empiricism mean?

Empiricism means that you collect experimental evidence in order to test theoretical models. Those theoretical models are then verified or disproved to the extent that they conform to the experimental evidence. Most crucially, a single mismatch between any part of a model and the corresponding experimental evidence is sufficient to disprove the model.

What do economists mean?

Economists mean that they dream up whatever model they like and if some tiny subset of the model happens to match the experimental evidence then it is verified. It is by no means necessary for a model to match all of the evidence or even most of the evidence. It is sufficient for the model to match some of the evidence for it to be considered "empirical".

For instance, it is possible (and it has been the case) that a model whose every single assumption is violated by reality is still considered correct because some of its conclusions (the ones the economists particularly like) happen to match the evidence.

In fact, it's worse than even that because economic "models" are not even required to be causal. This is actually what the economists mean by "empirical". They mean that the models they dream up are purely analytic tools that have no basis in reality, logic or causality.

To an economist, not only is it perfectly acceptable to model the real physical world as an AD&D fantasy, ignoring the fact that elves, orcs and goblins don't exist. No, far more than that, it's acceptable for the proposed AD&D fantasy to be fuzzy and ill-defined. It doesn't even have to be coherent!

Economics is what you get when you get people to manipulate a bunch of meaningless symbols and numbers. Symbols and numbers which they've had to memorize because they don't actually mean anything. Not in the real world and not in any world since economics falls short even as pure mathematics.

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