Starfish economics

I’ve been reading Tyler Cowen’s new book, Average is Over, and will post a review next week. As a taster, though, here is a comment from the short section on the state of economics:

“Economics is becoming less like Einstein or Euclid and more like studying the digestive system of a starfish.”

This intriguing description of the subject comes in the context of a chapter on how technology is changing science in general. For economics, the changes mean much more data and higher standards for empirical research, alongside a recognition of the complexity of the analysis or theory required. Field experiments, RCTs and laboratory experiments are where the action is in terms of scientific progress.

I agree with the direction of this argument but am a bit more pessimistic about the extent to which these changes have a grip on the profession in general. A lot of economists are still not very interested in starfish guts.

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