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Did you just say "Masonomics," Pete?

That was my reaction, Roger. Sigh.

It's getting that Adam Smith Prize and now all this Smithian Political Economy. "Masonomics" was the obvious next step...

Dear Pete,

I'm sorry I couldn't help commenting. I appreciate GMU dares to do things differently, but I think that in this case more would be required for owning the title of being different. As a New School student I know the New School is the same way, they say they are different, but they are not. The truth is that Smith and Menger wrote non-mathematical economics, but GMU does not offer a degree of economics which is mathles (FAR from that). In that VERY important respect, GMU is just like the other universities, as the New School is too. I know it's not all about daring, but hopefully one day GMU will be able to offer true Smithian and Austrian degrees, I mean true not just in content, but in methodology.


Andres Guzman


How would it promote truth, science, or any other good thing to graduate people incapable of reading the literature of their chosen field?

Dear Rogger,

Just as it did in the times of Adam Smith and Carl Menger. The field of economics is very wide, many subjects can be researched using no math at all. Those who specialize in such subjects should not be forced to learn math.


Andres Guzman


sure, if the use of mathematics is what makes for 'sameness', than GMU is just the same as the New School, as the MIT, or as U Chicago. Indeed, given your premises, economics is the same as physics, biology, etc. All systematic investigations into the nature of 'things' by professionals use math! I could not think half of what I know without it.

If your point is that standard optimization is a meager tool to conceptualize complex adaptive systems like the economy, I'd agree. But thinking complexity with our inescapable cognitive boundaries is difficult enough with the use of math and computers; clean and disciplined thinking is impossible without it.

Please keep in mind that mathematical economics is much more than what you find in optimization textbooks. As Max Planck was once asked why he didn't study economics, he replied: "too many non-linear equations."

Dear amv,

I never said everyone should avoid the math, I just said that competition of methodologies should be allowed. Your comment is implicitly arguing that this type of competition should not be allowed. I understand that half of what you know is thanks to math, but nothing of what I know is thanks to math (and I assume we are speaking about economic knowledge). Would you then argue that I know less than you? I think that comparing the natural sciences with a social science like economics makes no sense at all.

It seems at least you are suggesting that, since I don't use math, I have so far not engaged in clean and disciplined thinking. That's a lot of conclusions about someone you don't know...

Menger didn't use math. Hayek in most of his work didn't. Nor did Smith, just examples. Would you also say that they did not engage in clean and disciplined thinking?

The fact of the matter is that math is just a language. It is indeed a useful language when you don't have many variables (a), when you don't have many definitions (b), when you don't have uncontrolled variables (c), when you have reliable samples (d), and when you don't have hundreds of schools of thought which so deeply disagree with each other (e). Economics has a, b, c, e, and it doesn't have d, because it is a social science. For these reasons, and more if I had enough time to further develop, I cannot agree with what you said.


Andres Guzman

Karl Menger (the son of "our" Carl) has some great passages on how untrue it is to think that the use of mathematical symbols somehow implies greater logical rigor or even mathematical rigor. As I recall, he gives the example of reasoning from an assumed positive relationship between two variables vs. assuming an everywhere twice differentiable function in order to dress up the same argument in mathematical symbols. The latter procedure is *less* rigorous because it smuggles in restrictive assumptions that limit applicability of the whole analysis. (See his great "Selected papers in logic and foundations, didactics, economics.")

Anyway, Andres, none of that addresses my question. What sense does it make to train "economists" who cannot read economics? That's like objecting that physics is too mathematical. Even if you are right, you can't look me in the eye and tell me that you are a physicist if you cannot read modern physics. It does not matter whether economics has gone too mathy. If you want to say "I am a scholar of economics," then you gotta be able to read economics. Otherwise, you're just pretending.

Dear Rogger,

The way I understand your argument, and assuming I don't know how to read math (which is not true), your conclusion is that I am not an economist, even if I have a degree (which I do, I have a BA and an MA).

The hard core use of math in economics begun in the late 19th century, and more so in the 20th century. Much of the economic literature (although by far not all of it) has been written in math symbols. One would naturally suppose that lots of new things were discovered in the 20th century regarding economics, and that in order to learn them one would need to know the math. This is all implicit in your argument, and without this your argument doesn't make sense. Please have in mind that those things which were new to economics in the 20th century and which were "discovered" without math don't enter this list, for obvious reasons.

What is left out there? What would you say is truly new? I am sure you could come up with dozens of examples, especially related to micro theory, which is what Austrians generally focus on. I didn't take many micro courses in school, in fact I took just three. But I did get to review stuff which was allegedly new. It didn't seem new to me though. And in that process I did learn something about a trade off existing between knowing the history of ideas and knowing math. It is a natural trade off, because the day has only 24 hours, and one doesn't live that many years. So I did find an army of math students who called a theory by the name of a 20th century economist, when anyone who studied the history of economic thought knows that theory had been stated long before that, in the 19th, 18th centuries, and perhaps before. None of that literature was written in math. This is why I like Austrian economists so much, because they don't generally waste much time with math, and so they know the history of ideas pretty well. Hayek is a great example, and Mises too. In Prices and Production Hayek goes over and over the history of the point he is trying to make.

Keynes wasn't very fond of math either, and the GT is very readable even for those who know no math. I have studied that book a lot, and know some stuff about Keynes' bio. I know, for example, that he didn't study much economics in school, because his major was math. No wonder then, that the GT is plagued with mistakes, mis accusations, and grand statements about new discoveries: when Keynes was supposed to be studying the history of ideas, he was studying just math. The point is: many of the things which are called new are in fact not new at all, so the fact that they were re-written in math in the 20th century does not make them unreadable for a non-mathematical economist.

I just finished a long paper on Smith's economics, and what I found in the WN was far more economics than what I found in my macro classes for example (I think I took three macro classes proper, every class which doesn't say macro in the title is not counted as a macro class).

At the New School everyone beats their chest about how much history of economic thought they know, and also they try really hard to be good at math. The fact is that since they waste so much time in the math, they end up scanning through the classics, not studying them. Those who study them, don't really sit to read what the classics actually said (because that takes time), they instead accept the interpretation of some professor at the New School, and so they end up thinking that Marx was so original, when anyone who has read Smith knows he wasn't. If you ask them why they didn't study the WN properly, they will answer that they had no time, because of "the other courses". Anyone will tell you that the most time consuming courses are the math ones, and they are the most frustrating too: because you are here to learn economics, but somehow you end up wasting 90% of your time studying math.

So Rogger, please don't tell me, as if I didn't go to school for economics, that knowing how to read the math will make me an economist. I've already been through that, and I've already argued what I am arguing with you with highly mathematical professors, like Duncan Foley. The argument is always the same: they start with some weak arguments, like what amv said above, and once those don't work they end up saying "well learn the math because that is what we use". That is like going back to pre-newtonian times and saying: well learn the epicycles because that is what we use. You really don't have an argument Rogger. Indeed, if math was not the path economics should take, and if we followed your advice, we would always be stuck on the wrong path. Competition of methodologies should be allowed, and the truth of the matter is that it is not allowed because most students would flow towards the non-mathematical degree in economics, and economics would go back to being written mostly in plain words. If you disagree with this conclusion, which I think you do, why would you care about allowing the competition of methodologies? Why not let it be and see what happens? Trial and error is the best way to find out.

What sense does it make to train economists who don't know how to read economics? This question is misusing language, because math is NOT economics.

So yes, I can honestly look at you in the eye and say that I am as much an economist as you are, only that I won't be thinking I'm better than you just because I use a different methodology. It seems that tolerance is not something they teach in school these days.


Andres Guzman


I think we're probably past the point of fruitful exchange on this thread. I would just point out that I was not thinking about what you personally might or might not know in the way of math or econ. I was staying on the topic: What should PhD programs require. At least I thought that was the topic. I was using the word "you" to mean "one."

Dear Roger,

It's ok, I expected that reply. Some day people will be able to get a Phd in economics in the US without using math. Perhaps the Mises institute will be the innovator. Meanwhile, we still have Jesus, Guido, UFM, SMC, and others around the world.


Andres Guzman

I still have to pinch myself to realize I am not living a dream. And last weekend just made me realize once again how fortunate I am.

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