Boudreaux on Good Economics

quotes economics hayek scientism complexity emergence seen & unseen

13 Feb 2014

Today’s quotation of the day at Cafe Hayek is from Hayek’s 1963 lecture, “Economists and Philosophers”:

The characteristic problems of the social sciences seem to me to arise out of the fact that neither acting man nor the social scientist can ever know all the facts which determine human action and that the problem of the social sciences is essentially how man copes with this essential ignorance.

Don Boudreaux reacts with the following points:

Indeed so. This reality gives rise to at least two important characteristics of the good economist.

The first characteristic is his or her insistence on constantly remaining alert to unintended and unseen consequences…The good economist, in short, knows that there is a great deal of relevant detail about reality that he or she does not and cannot possibly know.

The second notable characteristic of the good economist: a focus on the formation and role of rules and institutions. This focus almost necessarily comes along with a scientific skepticism of social-engineering schemes, big and small.

Boudreaux draws the following conclusion:

The good economist is never very impressive to the ‘man in street,’ to politicians, or to pop-journalists, for the good economist, when talking to these people, mostly tells them that their assumptions are false and their fancies are futile.

Read more here.