Friday, April 09, 2010

Why Economists Outweigh Historians

Teaching history has given me an appreciation for the importance of historical study. Yet we hear very little about historians in everyday life. Here's a pretty good explanation:
One answer I offered was that economists had managed a remarkable balancing act between making the guts of their work totally incomprehensible — and thus forbiddingly impressive — to the outside world while continuing to offer reasonably straightforward conclusions. The basic form of an academic economics paper is a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the beginning and a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the end, with a bunch of really-hard-to-follow math or statistical analysis in the middle. An academic history paper, on the other hand, is often an uninterrupted cascade of semi-comprehensible jargon that neither impresses a lay reader nor offers any clear conclusions.

The one economist in the audience had another suggestion. Most economic work was aimed at prediction, and the world is always hungry for predictions.He added that most macroeconomic predictions are worthless (he was a microeconomist), but that doesn't seem to have damped the demand for them.
Hopefully this recession has shown us the promises and limitations of economics.

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