Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tony Lawson's critique of mathematical economics

Tony Lawson is an economist best known for his critique on mathematical economics. This post is a collection of Tony Lawson quotes obtained from three lectures posted on YouTube. I recommend listening to his argument regarding what's wrong with economics.



"Many people think mathematics is essential for economics to be a science. I don't think it's necessary."

"I don't want to oppose mathematics in economics. It's the emphasis that mathematics is the proper way to do economics is what I'm critical of."

"I'd like to state a case for ontology: the study of being. The study of nature and reality."

"Mathematics is a tool just like any other. The mathematical deductive systems that economists use are tools and they have conditions under which they are appropriate."

"With ontology, we can get an insight to what sort of methods might be useful for [economics]."

"The essence of science is this move from phenomenon of interest to underlying cause. We can do this in the social realm because it's structured. We can go practices of interest to underlying cause. Practices bound up with poverty, crisis, whatever to underlying causes. This move is as open to us in economics as it is in any science."

"Deduction: all ravens are black, therefore the next raven I see is black. Induction: I see six black ravens, therefore all ravens are black. Retroduction is movement from the blackness to the cause of blackness."

"Modern economics is unrealistic because most of the time economists are trying to make theories about a world that's open, structured, internally related and processual conform to a world that's atomistic and closed."


Confronting Mathematical Models in Economics (posted June 2014)

"In economics faculties, probably more than 90% of what is taught focuses or employs some form of mathematical modeling."

"For most mathematical tools, a precondition for them being useful is that there are correlations. Correlations to be uncovered. Regularities for whenever X then Y."

"Closed systems are those in which correlations and event regularities occur and the ontology that is sufficient for it is a world of isolated atoms and that seems to be the implicit ontology of economics for the last 50 years."

"Mathematics is very good if you want to do deduction. Go from general to particular. If I say all ravens are black, I can deduce that the next raven I see is black. Mathematics also good for induction. If I've seen 100 black ravens and I infer all ravens are black, I can do it with mathematics."

"Underneath and grounding our social practices are social structures. For example social rules. This isn't new, but the claim I want to make is these rules are out of phase with our practices."

"In the social realm, all of its components are internally related to everything else."

"[The social realm] is reproduced and transformed through practice."

"Social reality is made up of communities where the components are often human beings and the rights, obligations and positions is what holds it together."

"When do we get systems of isolated systems in the social realm? Well, people get pretty atomistic when they're in traffic jams. That kind of behavior can probably be modeled mathematically."


What's Wrong with Modern Economics? (posted November 2015)

"A telescope, a microscope, an electron accelerator: they're all tools of analysis. Mathematical models are tools of analysis."

"The use of mathematics to do social analysis is a bit like using a hammer to cut the grass."

"I think pluralism is the right message. Pluralism isn't saying you're wrong. Pluralism is saying all voices ought to be listened to."

"Pluralism can't mean, or isn't very useful if it means anything goes. I take it pluralism means open to others... but it doesn't mean every theory is as good as every other theory."

"Most people responded to the crisis in economics by putting forward new theories, new policies, new models. What is missing is philosophical discussion."

"I'm going to suggest to you that [philosophical discussion] is fundamental. In fact all the problems of the discipline are basically ontological. The orientation of the discipline ought to be ontological as it is in physics, chemistry, biology and almost everything else."

"When you look to the physical realm, they don't really start with methods. They start with ontology. If they want to look at a planet far away, they build a telescope. If they want to check a theory about the nature of mass and they need to check out Higgs boson, they build an electron accelerator."

"Most problem solving occurs on the job. We need to know the nature of the problem we're dealing with."

"If it's the case you see forms of human behavior that seem to conform, then by all accounts model it mathematically."

"The goal is to see the structures that condition human interaction and identify those we don't want... Identify the structures that stand in the way to human flourishing."

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