The Heart of the Math in Econ Debate

Why study economics? Why do many of us forgo income and time in our prime to earn a PhD? We economists seem to almost defy our own rationality principle. Unless, we see a deeper purpose.

Bob Murphy links to a new online resource from John Stachurski and Thomas J. Sargent (via Alex Tabarrok) called Quantitative Economics. Bob Murphy quotes the description-

This website contains a sequence of lectures on economic modeling, focusing on the use of programming and computers for both problem solving and building intuition. The primary programming language used in the lecture series is Python, a general purpose, open source programming language with excellent scientific libraries.

He ends his post by saying-

Look, I enjoyed studying Markov chains as much as the next guy in grad school–actually I think the guy sitting next to me in class hated them–but I think the above is a perfect illustration of the problem with modern, mathematical economics. The world is not stuck in a terrible recession right now, because too few people understand Fourier transforms. (Emphasis added).

And that really is the point of all of this. I do not mean to disrespect what these two economists have done by providing so much information. But after all the esoteric discussions, which I love as much as anyone, economics is about real people. I enjoyed my Fourier Transformations and countless other uses of Python in my days of studying physics. Python or any other program can be beautiful. It can be an end in itself for many physicists and I bet this is true of some economists too.

But that is not why the great pioneers (choose your favorite-Smith, Marx, Keynes, Coase) advanced economic science, so we would learn Fourier or Lagrange or pick you favorite 19th century Frenchman's transformation. Here I am not talking about bloggers, but instead the academic journal authors and editors. From my viewpoint, the marginal economist is better off explaining economics to the general public or doing economic history, not running transformations or learning anything else that programming teaches.

But we economists do need jobs and we cannot all be creative. To echo McCloskey, for God's sake and your own, be brave and buck the trend.

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