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Economics for scientists


In my experience, scientists often have a reflexive contempt for economics. Speaking as a scientist who came to understand economics after leaving academia, I find this attitude frustrating, because I see how they miss the fundamentally bottom-up, emergent, evolving nature of human society that the field of economics strives to understand (even as they often acknowledge the bottom-up, emergent nature of evolution and of ecosystems).

Don Boudreaux puts his finger on exactly what scientists are missing by this attitude:

While there are some exceptions – Indur Goklany, for example – of natural scientists who understand economics, far too many of them see the world as posing physics or engineering problems rather than as posing economic ones.  The two problems are very different from each other.

And the economic way of thinking – studying economic history; pondering the role of entrepreneurship; reflecting on creative destruction; being attuned to the fact that so many social phenomena are the results of human action but not of human design; understanding the fact that market-determined prices both signal important information about resource availabilities and give consumers and producers incentives to change their actions in accordance with changes in resource availabilities – gives economists a different perspective from that of natural scientists on the range of likely economic consequences of climate change.  One manifestation of this different perspective offered by economics is that the prospect and possibilities of productive human creativity seem to be more readily grasped by the typical economist than by the typical natural scientist.

In the comments below Don’s article, Econotarian quotes an essay of Einstein’s:

“A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. “

But the article starts:

“we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems”


Read the whole thing.


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist