Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do economists have physics envy? (Part 2)


Last year I wrote a post called "Do economists have physics envy?". Historian Philip Mirowski (who I notice also got his econ PhD from Michigan!), who literally wrote the book on the interplay between economics and physics, is not too happy with my post. In a recent interview, he explains why:
Let’s take a recent example of a popular contemporary economist blogger, insisting that economists don’t suffer from physics envy. Instead of looking at the history, or the technical issues involved, he just blurts out some random impressions: economists make more money than physicists (I cannot make this stuff up); an economist can talk about how much progress physicists are likely to make, and get taken seriously, but not vice versa (ditto); economic theorists, traditionally, have been free from the constraints of empirical validation (note the total innocence of the history of empiricism in economics); and that equilibrium means something different in economics than in physics.The level of arrogance combined with parochial ignorance is pretty stunning, but not unusual. He has no conception of the historical track record of the disciplines of economics and physics evolving through time, with earlier points of interaction being masked by later developments, and further waves of strange action at a distance. The result would therefore never appear to contemporaries as strict identity.  
Economists with a tad more sophistication may admit something happened in the 1870s, but they go on to insist that a century and a half of further development has produced a set of doctrines that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with that heritage. So in a weird sort of way, the more sophisticated modern line is that intellectual origins don’t matter to contemporary doctrines. Your average modern economist thinks history has entirely been banished by the activities of subsequent generations. Actually, I would argue against that; it is more plausible to think that it’s a path-dependent process. Neoclassical economists can’t entirely wish away their origins, and there are a number of times where I try to point that out in the book: for example, the eccentric ways in which the early neoclassicals are totally confused about how to deal with production. Moreover, I think the physics origins really instantiates the central metaphor of a market as if it were a kind of machine that takes stuff from a place it’s not supposed to be and puts it in a place that it deserves to be. That leads to this whole idea of allocation as a special phenomenon, which captures the essence of economics. That’s the way the first three generations of neoclassical economists think, in terms of movement in a commodity space. So for them, trade (exchange) is motion in a commodity space. All of these points comprise a deep inheritance of the early appropriation from physics that is really hard to get away from.
A couple of observations here. First, responses that rely on phrases like "I cannot make this stuff up" and "the level of arrogance combined with parochial ignorance", but fail to substantively address the argument in question, are indicative of a degraded discourse. Sputtering disdain is no substitute for an honest attempt to address someone's points. Of course, there's no reason at all that Mirowski should spend time and effort addressing or rebutting my points...but if he's not going to, at least he might consider ignoring my post completely instead of lobbing some sputtering disdain in my direction and moving on!

But anyway. 

Mirowski's work seems to attempt to answer two questions:

1. "How are physics and economics related historically?"

2. "How do current economic methods reflect the legacy of this historical relation?"

But my post was an attempt to answer a different question:

3. "How do economists currently view the discipline of physics?"

Which was related to a fourth question I didn't directly address, namely:

4. "To what extent do economists look to physics for new ideas nowadays?"

Those aren't the same thing. Regarding question 2, it's obvious to anyone who's studied both econ and physics that there are mathematical similarities between the two (e.g. calculus of variations). As for question 1, it's common knowledge that many economists in the past tried to apply physics ideas to econ. So I would never try to dispute those points. For more specifics on exactly how ideas crossed from physics to econ, and on which of those ideas remain to this day, one should probably check out Mirowski's book (though I hope it's written in a different tone than this interview).

But OK, just because economists did get inspiration from physicists in the past doesn't mean they do now. I've never met or heard of a currently working economist who reads physics papers. I'm sure some are out there, but it would seem to be a rarity. In the past, economists probably got lots of inspiration from physics, but I don't think that seems true anymore. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I don't think so. That still leaves econ models with a legacy of physics influence (as I notice every time I see a Hamiltonian), but the phenomenon of economists looking to physicists for new ideas doesn't seem very pronounced or significant these days.

Now if that's true - and I'm happy to look at any evidence to the contrary - it leads to the question of "Why?" Why would economists draw less inspiration from physics than they used to?

Some reasons might be sociological. That's what my initial post was about. 

First, if economists don't see physicists as having higher status than themselves, they're less likely to look to physics for ideas about how to make models. And my impression is that modern economists, in general, don't see physicists as anyone that they need to emulate or look up to. In my initial post, I cited 1) money, and 2) popular respect as reasons economists probably no longer see physicists as being higher on the academic food chain than themselves.

Second, if economists value different things in their models than physicists do, there will probably be less impetus to emulate physics. In my initial post, I cited 1) empirical predictive power, and 2) symmetry as two things physicists care a lot about and economists value less (though (1) is changing). Econ and physics are just two different epistemic communities

In addition to sociological reasons for economists to take less inspiration from physics than in days of yore, there are also probably methodological reasons. A lot of modern econ theory is based on game theory. Game theory is not very similar to anything in physics - only a few tentative attempts have been made to connect the two, and generally from the physics side. Nash Equilibrium, as Von Neumann pointed out, is not really the same thing as an equilibrium in a physical system. In fact, some people argue that game theory isn't even part of "neoclassical economics," which is the historical strain of thought that Mirowski studies. 

So what does this all have to do with "physics envy"? The term "physics envy" gets tossed around a lot in public discussions of economics. Some people use it to mean that econ just isn't as good at describing reality as physics. Others use it to imply that economists have a pride and confidence in their discipline that only physicists really deserve. Still others use it in a historical sense, to refer to the links that Mirowski and others have written about. And some use it to imply that economists are just failed physicists. 

But I think most people use it as a simple emotive term, a stock phrase that carries an implication of "econ bad, physics good". Obviously most economists would disagree. Some of that is pure chauvinism, of course, but a lot has to do with the diverging methodologies of the two disciplines. And diverging methodologies come partly from sociology, and partly from the fact that these are just two different sciences attempting to answer two different sets of questions.

49 comments:

  1. Mirowski actually has a follow-up book in which he discusses what he claims was an unhealthy relationship between operations research and economics in the post-World War II period, giving rise to the centrality of optimizing agents in economics:

    https://books.google.com/books/about/Machine_Dreams.html?id=GkrYxL0QtpcC

    This is an important history, and he's right to point out the connection, but having researched it I think here's a lot he gets wrong, too. Here's my book if you're interested (mostly not about econ):

    https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/rational-action

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  2. Anonymous2:12 PM

    "sputtering disdain" is mirowski's *deal*, and 80% of why the humanities types go for him so hard. mirowski is a "must be this tall to ride" writer -- you can't come to him to learn the material or to initially develop your perspective. once you are in a position to know the games he's playing and enjoy them with some remove, he's worth reading, because he'll do that thing that is most valuable once you've already got sea legs under you: he'll give you a long list of other stuff you'll want to track down and read. but expecting him to drop the "sputtering disdain" is like expecting deidre mccloskey to drop the bemused contempt and condescending show of tolerating your masculine errors. it's not going to happen.

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    1. this reply was good up until the 7th last word lol

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    2. Anonymous5:41 PM

      I'm not intending to make a bigoted moral monster point there, I have cutesy turns of phrase and implication in mind. alas, I am not on a campus at the moment, and two articles that came to mind to cite are gated. for what it's worth, I'm a fan of her work (even an old and idiosyncratic sort of literary micro text), exasperating tone aside.

      Delete
  3. "one should probably check out Mirowski's book (though I hope it's written in a different tone than this interview)"

    It is not. You almost want to wipe the spittle from your face as you're reading it.

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  4. I interpret the term "physics envy" as a rough motive for the mathiness problem in Economics -- the fetishization of mathematically-complicated models that aren't tethered to reality the way they are in physics.

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    1. Economics has an Austrian Problem. Mathematics and models have replaced human behavior and deductive logic in economics and the failure has been spectacular.

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    2. Anonymous10:11 PM

      Thanks for clarifying the issue. This is all it is. Basically it is associating progress in understanding how an economy works with the mathematicisation of the discipline.

      NK.

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    3. Anonymous8:22 AM

      It seems like Paul Romer has talked about this issue recently?

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    4. Anonymous4:33 PM

      Indeed:

      "mathiness...the fetishization of mathematically-complicated models"

      That has always been my understanding of what "physics envy" means.

      Delete
  5. Hoover's dam done burst (from an amazon review of his new book): will spare the reader an account of the ungenerous stance Mirowski assumes facing both physics and economics, but rather recall two reviews of this book. The first appeared in Methodus by UC Davis economist Kevin Hoover. Hoover writes “I hold no special brief for neoclassical economics. … Yet, reading this book gave me a slowly rising feeling of outrage. Taken as a whole, it is an outrageous book: neither the history nor the methodology is persuasive; the scholarship is often slapdash; the tone is intemperate; and the style is often obnoxious. Mirowski's hatred of neoclassical economics borders on the pathological… Mirowski strikes a flashy, bullying tone throughout the book, patronizing the reader, economists and physicists.”

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    1. Oh, but you left out the best part!

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  6. Anonymous7:53 PM

    There is also economics envy. Sylvan Schweber the historian of physics wrote brilliant pieces on how Darwin was influenced by Smith, e.g. just as the division of labor maximizes wealth the diversification of species maximizes life on earth, and of course by Malthus to whom Darwin famously admits a debt in his Autobiography.

    I argued long ago in my dissertation that Darwin may have envied Babbage's economics. Darwin was related to Sismondi through his wife, I think. Sismondi warned crises of overproduction but Babbage vindicated this unpleasant consequence of anarchic production as the very source of innovation, e.g. discovery and implementation of technologies that would cut costs faster than prices were falling and thereby restore profitability and thereby restore effective demand.

    Think now of the ending of the Origin of Species. "Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

    Note that this is different from Malthus in which death and famine restore population balance; the vision here is one of transformation, so this is why I suggest that Darwin may have envied Babbage's economics, more than Malthus'

    Rakesh Bhandari

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    1. Rakesh,

      Evolutionary biology is not physics. Sorry, but this is just completely irrelevant.

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    2. Anonymous12:30 PM

      Sure. I was just taking the question of influence/envy up to a higher level of generality. Perhaps out of my vulgarity I don't understand neoclassical economics primarily as a form of physics envy; I see it as a class conscious project to displace classical economics, given how the labor theory of value had been developed by the radical Ricardians in the 1830s and later of course Marx. In his Origin of Economic Ideas Guy Routh made a solid case.
      Rakesh Bhandari

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  7. Interesting individual9:14 PM

    You have to commend Mirowski for his commitment in turning the genetic fallacy into a research agenda. Alas, commitment is his only commendable trait.

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  8. What are economists trying to solve these days? My impression is that they are mostly spending time understanding how to make more money for vested interests. It isn't really a science and it is really just an offshoot of capitalism and greed.

    I have no idea how much money economists make. It is always been the case that scientists (physicists) make less than many professions with equivalent educational levels. One of the reasons I chose engineering over science was because of the salaries. Adaptable engineers can make in the $120,000 range pretty easily, and the best can double that. I think this is above physics salaries and probably pretty comparable to economists, but I don't know for sure. It is all driven by the money taken in by the companies they work for.

    I hope most economists are ignoring physics in their own profession. There's just nothing in economics that is definable in terms of laws like physics. The more an economist looks for universal laws, in my view, the worst they are as an economist.

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    1. Interesting individual3:14 PM

      >What are economists trying to solve these days? My impression is that they are mostly spending time understanding how to make more money for vested interests.

      This is where an informed reader should stop. Why cast strong aspersions about people when you openly acknowledge you have no idea what they even do?

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    2. Because I'm using a rhetorical method to provoke people such as yourself to think about what economists really do. You took the bait.

      I said nothing of my own ignorance, rather I asked a rhetorical question and provided a possible answer to the most general interpretation of that question.

      If you don't even understand that, why are you reading this blog?

      Delete
    3. Another possible response to you're comment is to ask what you think Noah's goal is. Why would an economist work for Bloomberg? If you think there's something other than money at stake, I'm very skeptical of your objectivity.

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  9. There is a really nice review of Mirowski's thesis in "More Heat Than Light" here:

    Economics as Social Physics
    D. A. Walker
    The Economic Journal
    Vol. 101, No. 406 (May, 1991), pp. 615-631

    As for the shorter and more entertaining review from Kevin Hoover mentioned by Dwayne above -- I found this link

    http://www.helsinki.fi/jarj/inem/methodus/pdf/v3n1/v3n1p139.pdf

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  10. Anonymous4:29 AM

    Anonymous (2:12 PM) mentioned McCloskey and compared her to Mirowski. That's an apt comparison. Both are exasperating.

    Unlike Anonymous, I find little to learn from either so as to justify the effort of reading them. If forced to choose, I guess I'd pick McCloskey. Frankly, Mirowski's talk about neoliberal ideology has a whiff of conspiracy theory around it.

    And I side with Noah on this:
    First, responses that rely on phrases like "I cannot make this stuff up" and "the level of arrogance combined with parochial ignorance", but fail to substantively address the argument in question, are indicative of a degraded discourse. Sputtering disdain is no substitute for an honest attempt to address someone's points. Of course, there's no reason at all that Mirowski should spend time and effort addressing or rebutting my points...but if he's not going to, at least he might consider ignoring my post completely instead of lobbing some sputtering disdain in my direction and moving on!

    Noah is right, disdain ain't good enough. Drop the disdain, and the arrogance and address the argument, whether good or bad.

    Having said all that, I'd say that Noah should not cast the first stone. He's known for doing precisely that.

    Jus' sayin'

    B.L. Zebub

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  11. Anonymous4:34 AM

    I think Mirowsky is using a typical approach of those who trade on pseudo-intellectual BS by interpreting the word "envy" in a way that allows him to get a rise out of Noah. This causes Noah to respond in a public way to his claims, despite the fact that those claims are based on a semantic misinterpretation of the very thing in which Mirowsky claims to specialize. In that way, he spreads knowledge of his work to more economists who, being prideful, will read his book out of spite and thus increase is profits.

    I'd like to see a physicist make that argument.

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  12. As a big fan of Mirowski's scholarly work and vision, I've been quite upset at how poorly he's taken to representing himself.

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  13. Charrua10:35 AM

    Well, I would say that physicists do have more popular respect and a higher standing than economists.
    ¿Could economists convince the government to spend 4 billion dollars to build a really large device for research purposes (a potentially dangerous device, too)?
    Last time I checked, the wide consensus of US economists is unable to convince the US Congress of anything (and forget about the population at large, of course.)
    Physicists may not earn as much money, but they certainly are entrusted with the lives of people (think space travel) with a confidence that Janet Yellen (currently being accused by a presidential candidate of malpractice) can only dream about.

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  14. "one should probably check out Mirowski's book (though I hope it's written in a different tone than this interview)"

    Heads up: its not. One reviewer wrote of his tone:

    He offers some attractive ideas for the development of the discipline. Yet, reading this book gave me a slowly rising feeling of outrage. Taken as a whole, it is an outrageous book: neither the history nor the methodology are persuasive; the scholarship is often slapdash; the tone is intemperate; and the style is often obnoxious. Mirowski's hatred of neoclassical economics borders on the pathological: one sometimes wonders if his mother didn't run off with a neoclassical economist, leaving little Phil bereft in the cradle. Mirowski strikes a flashy, bullying tone throughout the book, patronizing the reader, economists and physicists.

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  15. "In addition to sociological reasons for economists to take less inspiration from physics than in days of yore, there are also probably methodological reasons. A lot of modern econ theory is based on game theory. Game theory is not very similar to anything in physics - only a few tentative attempts have been made to connect the two, and generally from the physics side. Nash Equilibrium, as Von Neumann pointed out, is not really the same thing as an equilibrium in a physical system. In fact, some people argue that game theory isn't even part of "neoclassical economics," which is the historical strain of thought that Mirowski studies. "

    Mirowski's second book, "Machine Dreams" is about just that. It's even more sprawling, but is widely considered definitive on the subject, even by Hoover

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  16. So this is only a cursory comment but it has been something I have been thinking about for a while since reading your blog. I feel like the much more intuitive and interesting comparison between econ and another science is biology.

    I was trained as a biomedical engineer in grad school (although now I work as a process engineer making paint so take what I say with a grain of salt). As an engineer I was tought that it was often our job to push the math and statistics beyond simple analysis in trying to connect often messy real world quasi experiments to theorys of how our bodies actually work. Conversely I was tought the basics of modelling the human body for approaching drug delivery problems with the knowledge that assumptions would never hold true to entire populations. Obviously I see a lot of the same tensions as I do when I read about econ through blogs such as yours. Add in strong political biases (eg smoking, chemical agents) and you see a lot of the same issues.

    Biology has come a long way though in the past few decades and actually plenty of interesting sociology work I have read(Sharkey's work on neighborhood inequality comes to mind) basically takes advanced analytics techniques developed by biologists for messy quasi experiments to try and prove points. In the realm of micro and molecular, bioinformatics has changed the game of the types of experiments you can do with large amounts of even messy data. However, I also worked in labs where very art people would say they knew something with confidence about a virus based off of a 3 sample t-test.

    I had no real point to this post other than to recommend keeping your eyes open for similarities in health and biological sciences and where they have had success and failures.

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    1. 1990s Krugman wrote some good things on the parallels between Economics and Biology, especially evolutionary biology.

      Check out: http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/bionomic.html

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    2. Krugman's piece about evolutionary biology is an embarrassing joke.

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  17. Economists make more money, but physicists still have the edge in academic intellectual hierarchical respect.

    The latest influences of physics on econ are coming from the econophysicists, especially using statistical mechanics models to do things like explain fat-tailed (kurtotic) distributions in financial returns, firms sizes, city sizes, wealth distributions, and more. Probably the most important economists somewhat accepted by the mainstream (although he was turned down for tenure at MIT) who is doing this stuff is Xavier Gabaix, although there are others less well known (like me).

    Barkley Rosser

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    1. Anonymous4:04 PM

      Fama investigated fat-tailed distributions in his PhD thesis (ca. 1960).

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  18. Anonymous7:55 AM

    Hey Noah,

    Just wanted to say I really enjoy your posts. It would be really easy to start mud slinging in response to such a belligerent interview, but you manage to rise above and actually attempt to distill a meaningful argument from it and respond in an intelligent fashion.

    Peace! Mark

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  19. (Disclaimer, I am a physicist). I think economists envy the way that physicists can relate bulk properties to the interactions of individual particles. Roughly, the representative agent is analogous to the quark, or atom, or molecule, or primordial asteroid. By studying the dynamics of, say, individual or pairs of atoms, one can understand and predict the behavior of very large ensembles. But, alas, physics interactions are way simpler and have less hysteresis. On the other hand, physicsts have economics envy: physics problems are hard, but often tractable. Econ problems are hard, and not tractable. There may come a day when macro is a truly predictive science, an accomplishment I would think rivals anything physics has done.

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  20. Duncan Foley has done some interesting work drawing on some old ideas from physics.

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  21. The critique of Noah's original point should have been that it was a generation out of date, it seems to me.

    A generation ago, physicists dealt with genuine things, particles, fields of force, observable interactions, and their results. Physicists produced power, which we could use, weapons, which we could fear, and the theoretical bases on which chemists and engineers could build the modern world.

    Economists, by contrast, dealt in models, toy universes, and theories about theories of epistemologies. Anybody could make one up, many people did. It was like standards in computation, Oh so nice to have so many because you could always find one you liked.

    That was then, and the idea that economists would envy the accolades given physicists for their manifest usefulness and success made sense.

    This is now. Things are different.

    Economists are beginning to notice that the Central Limit Theorem is about arithmetic, and not about the things arithmetic counts. When you actually count things -- suddenly a possibility in the age of Big Data -- you get power curves, fat tails, and observations on paper which actually mirror the real world.

    The physicists in the same period have left realism and drifted off into theology, a supposed Big Bang, and the study of the heads of pins, string theory.

    This latter would not be recognised as physics by scientists of the past: it is a simple hack by which all the uncomfortable zeroes which produce equally nasty infinities are gotten rid of. You replace anything that isn't there with an itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie, and voila! no more exploding infinities to spoil your theory.

    Noah is wrong to suggest any economist would envy that miasma today. Even physicists are beginning to get fed up with it.

    -dlj.

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  22. Anonymous7:19 AM

    So you haven't heard of Quantum Economics? A discredited theory disappears in 1932 and then reappears in 2010 with a different spin.

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  23. Economics between physics and psychiatry
    Comment on Noah Smith on ‘Do economists have physics envy?’

    Mirowski messed up his methodological critique of Neoclassics with the now famous meme of ‘physics envy’. Physics envy derives from Freud’s penis envy and this immediately frames the whole discourse as an exercise in psychologism.

    Psychologism is scientific rubbish, as Popper made clear long ago with his methodological debunking of Psychoanalysis, but people stick to it because it gives them an easy to apply explanation template. There are three psycho-sociological templates: myth/religion, psychologism, conspiracy ‘theory’. The strength of these thought patterns is that they are emotionally effective and virtually irrefutable. This makes them dear to all sitcom storytellers but forever unacceptable to scientists.

    The underlying thought pattern consists of three elements: there is a powerful but unknown entity A (e.g. god, subconscious, illuminati, communists, extraterrestrials) which effects the phenomenon/event under discussion B (e.g. crisis, accident, windfall, strange behavior) because of an emotional cause/motive C (e.g. anger, vindictiveness, jealousy, greed, malevolence, benevolence). In economics, this one-size-fits-all template is known as Invisible Hand.

    Science is fundamentally different from ABC-storytelling as it is laser guided by the criterion true/false which in turn is well-defined as material and formal consistency.

    Accordingly, the scientific critique of Neoclassics consists in the proof that it is materially/formally inconsistent which is followed by the full replacement of the obsolete paradigm by a superior paradigm. Mirowski’s critique, though, consists in the detailed demonstration that Neoclassicals (i) do not understand their underlying physical metaphor, (ii) do not follows its implications to their logical end, and (iii), misapply the mathematics that comes with the metaphor.

    All this is true, of course, but the whole psychologism about physics envy is entirely beside the point. The founding fathers were Political Economists but realized that after Newton’s Principia agenda pushing, too, had to take a scientific form. Simple soap box rhetoric was no longer acceptable: “The backward state of the Moral Sciences can only be remedied by applying to them the methods of Physical Science, duly extended and generalized.” (Mill, 2006, p. 833)

    After more than 200 years it is pretty obvious that the representative economist never really grasped what science is all about and this is why economics is what Feynman famously called a cargo cult science. Neoclassical economics in its actual incarnation as DSGE/RBC is an outstanding example of cargo-cultish rubbish. No genuine scientist will ever accept it. But, as it happens, economists have emancipated themselves and do no longer care about the approval of genuine scientists.

    Mirowski’s summary assessment of neoclassical economics as a scientific failure is accurate. Unfortunately, he steered the whole discussion into the psycho-social cul-de-sac. Accordingly, the discussion is not about how to get out of the bottomless neoclassical morass and to get rid of incompetent scientists but more about Mirowski’s sputtering disdain, his patronizing tone, his literary extravagances.

    The unsurpassable apex of brain dead psychologism is this intro of Hoover*: “Mirowski’s hatred of neoclassical economics borders on the pathological: one sometimes wonders if his mother didn’t run off with a neoclassical economist, leaving little Phil bereft in the cradle.” Oedipus has finally arrived in the economics sitcom. You cannot make this stuff up.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    * See http://www.helsinki.fi/jarj/inem/methodus/pdf/v3n1/v3n1p139.pdf

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    1. Anonymous3:13 PM

      Good gravy Egmont is nuts.

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  24. Anonymous5:32 PM

    The lifetime of a muon at rest is different than the lifetime of a moving muon..it carries an "internal clock". Time is not absolute. Come on...something as crazy and cool as that does not appear anywhere in economics. Yes, magic is orders of magnitude more abundant in physics than in economics. But Economists make more money...uhmm, and what about the law of diminishing marginal utility of money? After all most intelligent people know that life is not all about making money. What about understanding the discovery of extremely magic phenomena? Does that phenomena also follows the law of diminishing marginal utility? Maybe, but let´s be honest: it´s orders of magnitude more cool than the phenomena you find in economics. Yet, economists dont make orders of magnitude more money than physicists. Think about it.

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  25. Clearly we need a quantum theory of the business cycle.

    Also, I can't wait until President Trump reveals his secret dark energy economic plan.

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  26. Good response. I do think the "physics envy" slam is out of date.Economists (many anyway) now take psychology seriously. They even do replicable experiments, analyse network structures, and more. We're not in Samuelson's (God bless him) world anymore.

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  27. I think the talk of "physics envy" is simply a metaphor for an allegedly tendency of economics to want to be like hard sciences, with rigorous models, accurate predictions, etc., in contrast with the other soft sciences (who, if anything, seem to take pride in the all "there is no definitive answers" thing)

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  28. I think Miguel is correct - the expression is "physics envy" not "physicist envy." Presumably the allegation is that economists wish their discipline had the rigor of a hard science like physics, not that economics professors are jealous of the glamorous life of the physics professor.

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  29. Any time an economist uses a mathematical model in a predictive sense economics is demonstrating "physics envy". If the model is based on collected data, then it's experimental physics envy, if the model is based on "axioms" then it's theoretical physics envy (string theory).
    Noah's discussion of beauty/symmetry is based on a romantic misunderstanding of science. It is the precision, rigor, and predictive and explanatory power of a scientific theory that makes it valuable.
    Economists wish to have this rigorous predictive power and they do not, hence the "physics envy".
    Economics is a sub-category of history and tries to use the tools and concepts of physics.
    Economics puts on the dress of mathematics in order to illegitimately claim the mantel of the predictive power of science.

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  30. Anonymous7:22 PM

    With respect to ideas ... check Hidalgo-Haussman cooperation or recently Stiglitz-Battiston. Both examples of well known economists working with well known physicists ....

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  31. Anonymous2:41 AM

    Physics envy, while worshiping equilibrium, may not be possible.

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  32. Anonymous7:11 PM

    Obviously "economics" is going to get disturbed for political purposes just as the word "love" gets used in oh so many ways by teenagers. The political pressure on academia is acute. In the political sector, such as think tanks its all controlling. One call the problem "mathyness" but I think its actually "truthyness".

    The when, how, why, and who of the corruption can be found here:
    http://www.politicaleconomy.org/gaffney.htm

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