Humility in Economics

Economics used to be a humble profession. It lost that humility around the time the discipline became more quantitative. Armed with computers and econometrics, economists went from students of human behavior to saviors of humanity. The discipline’s prevailing mindset used to be akin to biologists, seeking to understand organic, evolving, and interacting processes. Now the engineer’s mentality is more common: tinkering, fixing, and improving. Instead of understanding a process, now the goal is to bring about specific results.

This is certainly the correct approach to building a bridge or designing a car. But economies, or rather the people who comprise them, don’t respond as predictably as concrete or steel. Economies are organic and complicated. Each aspect is too inter-related with too many other moving parts for top-down plans to work as intended. Unlike chess pieces, human beings will move around the board on their own.

Peter Boettke is the rare economist who remains intellectually humble. And that makes this short interview with him worth watching (click here if the embed doesn’t work).


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