Is economics a science?

Economists Noah Smith (“A few words about math”) and Bryan Caplan (“Economath fails the cost benefit test”) have recently presented powerful and persuasive critiques of the over-use of mathematics in economics, but prior probability thinks they both miss the larger question, i.e., is economics a science? In addition to the points made by Smith and Caplan, we think that many economists use fancy mathematical symbols in order to create the false impression that their discipline is a science when, in fact, it is not (it is mostly a branch of moral philosophy dressed up in the language of mathematics). What do you think?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to Is economics a science?

  1. Rinaldo Cartaya III says:

    I concur with your hypothesis. I find it interesting that Economists, and sociologists now try to pass themselves of as scientists, when both have origins in liberal arts. Sociology, just like economics rely on using past behavior to predict future outcomes, much like history or philosophy does. Mathematics is in its very nature omnipresent and thus a constant in our daily lives. No wonder then that the “social sciences” rely on its use, but simple reliance on mathematics does not render a social scientist a mathematician, just as studying a society does not render one a scientist, or a historian who references laws a lawyer.

    Our society relies on titles, which ironically our nation was founded to avoid. People now seek meritorious badges and titles denoting mastery of subject matters and we have sought to create Doctors out of every pinnscle degree. We also happen to Medicalize every ailment or social non conformity as a “disorder” because our society finds it is easier to excuse ones behavior if it can be defined. Our entire social order is based on laws, physical, mathematical and social and moral. I’m surprised most “scientists” do not refer to themselves as “lawyers”, as that would be more appropriate.
    The only thing scientific about social sciences is that they, like actual science, rely on hypothesis, tests and conclusions. However, humans are not reliable subjects like atoms in molecules are. We cannot accurately predict economic outcomes with any degree of certainty because we created and we constantly modify the standards, the values and the origins of wealth so that there is no constant by which a theoretical science can be formulated and accurately and relied upon.WWhenn the US abandoned the gold standard, the scientific constant required for the study of Science was lost, as most nations followed and applied the US dollar as their standard. The issue is that the US prints and creates money, leverages debt, and issues bonds. Surely the is a method of calculating the effects these measures may have, however the dilemma is that most nations can now do the same, and many employ less predictable methods. Economists cannot predict the effects of unknown future products, just as they failed to anticipate the affect hosting msrkets based on pure speculation would have on world economies because there was too much unknown and human error and corruption was a factor.
    My conclusion is that because humans are capable of corruption, and do not follow a predictable set of rules, a science Cannot be created to govern or to predict human economic behavior. People have always and will always cheat on their taxes, lie about corporate balance sheets, steal money, and even refuse to operate at full capacity. Unlike science, which relies on constants to predict future occurences. Economists cannot predict the value of the US dollar a week out, let alone what the outcome of an increase in the interest rates will yield. They can only speculate. Speculation is a fancy word for guessing, not a synonym for scientifically reasonable outcome.

  2. enrique says:

    Great points … I especially like your point about how economists, sociologists, and other social “scientists” are really more like lawyers, since what they are really doing is just advocating certain positions like lawyers do!

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