Economics, a Science?

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Economics, a Science?

Post  John on Fri Oct 19, 2012 3:38 pm

Alexander Rosenberg, in an article titled, "If Economics Isn't a Science, What is it?" concluded that economics in general is, geometry, best viewed as a branch of mathematics somewhere on the intersection between pure and applied axiomatic systems.
Rosenberg argues that Economics follows an 'extremal model' of explanation in which it, much like Physics and Chemistry (the paradigms of modern science), focus on maximizing or minimizing variables towards an approximated equilibria. A rather glib example in Chemistry would be the balancing of equations following Dalton's Law and Le Chatelier's Principle among other things. Varying reactant A affects product B until equilibrium is reached, and all the world rejoices. Not simply satisfied with this level of quantification, Rosenberg argues that buttressing feature of extremal models allow access to differential calculus, a hallmark of scientific inquiry.

But therein lies the rub. Extremal theories are insulated from falsifiability due to the 'max/min approximation' character, much like Physics and Chemistry. Take the Ideal Gas Law as an example (PV=nRT). If this measurement comes out wrong, we tend to blame the calculator, the STP conditions, or claim that someone forgot to convert the temperature to Kelvins (!). What we refuse to do, it seems, is paint Boyle, Charles, and the rest as being incorrect. Well, if it works for Physics and Chemistry, then perhaps we should throw out the falsifiability criterion when considering economics as well. This, mind you, would be acceptable, but for one seemingly troublesome problem: Economics has yet to produce any theory, programme, law, procedure, or explanation on par with that of Physics or Chemistry. There seems to be a tendency to allow these more successful theories the benefit of the doubt (even when faced with Einstein's corporate takeover) due to their often surprising efficacy.

Rosenberg's argument is characteristically more nuanced, but this summary is an acceptable starting point. So, I ask you Philosophy Club, in light of this criticism, Economics, a Science?

video! David Levine v Alexander Rosenberg on the value and importance of Economic theory.

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