12 February 2010

Ormerod on how economics should be taught

Paul Ormerod's lecture at the LSE debate is available here

Some highlights:

I think that a serious problem with the way much economics is taught is that theorems are presented as if – that’s one of our favourite phrases, as if, so I can’t resist getting a mention of it in early – as if they had the same standing as, say, propositions in engineering textbooks. This is very far from being the case. Economics is much more a way of thinking about the world than learning about undisputed, scientifically settled theorems.

We should be teaching much more about empirical evidence on agent behaviour from the discipline of psychology instead of insisting on a single approach which is everywhere applicable or whose assumptions can only be ‘relaxed’ at a later stage.
the fundamental points that, first, economics is a way of thinking about the world and not a set of theorems. Second, it must be empirically based. We must be teaching students to think about the appropriate assumptions on agent behavior in different contexts.
when the American authorities saved the world in September 2008, they didn’t do so by consulting rational expectations and dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models. They acted, in conditions of great uncertainty, relying to a large extent on the economic history of the 1930s and hoping that it had something to teach them.

This is the one point I think it is essential to teach students. Tastes and preferences are in general not fixed, but can be altered by the behavior of others, not just indirectly via the price mechanism, but directly. We have only to look at the modern world to see how pervasive this phenomenon is. As a result, for example, market demand and supply functions become non-additive.
In the past 10 to 15 years there has been an explosion of work in other disciplines, physics, mathematical sociology, computer science, anthropology, on social networks, both in theory and in practice. And in particular on how cascades of behavior either spread or are contained across such networks. Economists in general have only the haziest idea, if they have heard of it at all, about such work. Yet it is fundamental to understanding how the modern social and economic world works.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you are write. Economics should be based directly on the real world. A case in point is my project known as Transfinancial Economics which offers a more scientific approach to the whole problem......