Economic Schools of Thought

A great post from George Selgin, who pretty much captures my answer when asked "Are you an X economist?"


  1. What the eff is this, Gene? Do you call it a "great post" when a scientist rips on the philosophy of science, saying he don't need no stinkin' thinkin' about *what* he's doing, he just wants to roll up his sleeves and get down to business?

    1. But... but... George most definitely did not "rip" on the philosophy of economics. He does not even mention it!

      But I do know someone writing philosophy of economics who supports George's position with some philosophical artillery.

    2. Two questions:

      (a) Do you agree with me that George is saying methodological discussions in economics are a waste of time?

      (b) If so, do you agree with him?

    3. A) no

      B) ...

      To qualify A: I understand him to be saying the practitioner does not need to worry much about "methodology."

      That is correct. A plumber need not become an expert in the "philosophy of plumbing."

      Philosophers will, however, worry about such things. As is their task.

      This has been my understanding of such matters for at least the last 7 or 8 years, something i have stressed in my written work again and again.

      When Oakeshott was asked what his philosophy of history meant for how historians should work, he replied "I have no interest in telling historians what they should put in their books."

    4. That analogy doesn’t work where it is important. Let’s say there are two methods available to plumbing. Theoretically both might work, only one or none. It definitely is of interest for the plumber to know that. The advantage of a plumber is though that he directly sees the results of the methods he applies, which are repeatable with the exact same results etc.. So in a sense the plumber doesn’t “really” need think about the validity of methods available because by doing his plumbing he gets the answer to that anyway. That is not possible in economics.

      And by the way. In my understanding Oakeshott didn’t answer the question asked. This is the kind of (non)answers my brother likes to give… And I know just as my brother you can twist/justify such a non-answer as you need it and feel very smug about that.


    5. Economists get results also. Analogy is fine.

      "In my understanding Oakeshott didn’t answer the question asked."

      Curious: to me it is clear he did.

    6. To clarify, skylien:

      I think Oakeshott's answer quite obviously meant "None."

      And look at a writer: each novel is a new task (at least if they are not just churning out pulp!) but that does not mean a good novelist should be constantly concerned with the "methodology" of writing. Some are on occasion (Henry James and Milan Kundera, for instance) but many just keep turning out writing without worrying about such issues at all. The results of the work speak for themselves, without any worries about "methodology."

  2. If we take George's analogy to heart, you should no longer be thinking about the rules of what you are doing once you have learned how to do it. To learn how to do a particular dance, you do of course need to learn the rules, but if you are going to ever become a great dancer, you have to so internalize those rules that you no longer think about them. Let's internalize the rules and get to doing some good economics!

  3. "Economists get results also. Analogy is fine."

    How would you respond to Mises and Rothbard's view that economic laws are unfalsifiable, because they're always couched in "ceteris paribus" language, and you don't know what would have happened in the counterfactual case?

    Personally that view seems silly to me, because in physics we run into counterfactuals and ceteris paribus laws all the time, and yet we're able to make plenty of falsifiable predictions.


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