What Good Are Mathematical Models for the Science of Economics?

This question comes from co-blogger Warren Gibson’s piece in Econ Journal Watch titled “The Mathematical Romance: An Engineer’s View of  Mathematical Economics”:

Mathematics can be very alluring. Professional mathematicians speak frequently of “beauty” and “elegance” in their work. Some say that the central mystery of our universe is its governance by universal mathematical laws. Practitioners of applied math likewise feel special satisfaction when a well-crafted simulation successfully predicts real-world physical behavior.

But while the mathematicians, some of them at least, are explicit about doing math for its own sake, engineers are hired to produce results and economists should be, too. It’s fine if a few specialists labor at the outer mathematical edge of these fields, but the real needs and real satisfactions are to be found in applications.

Western civilization has brought us an explosion of human welfare: prosperity, longevity, education, the arts, and so on. We very much need the wisdom that economists can offer us to help understand and sustain this remarkable record. What good are engineers’ accomplishments in crash simulations if the benefits are denied to the world by trade barriers, stifling regulation, congested highways, or bogus global warming restrictions? What can mathematical economics contribute to such vital issues?

You can read the whole thing here (it’s also in the newly-renovated ‘recommendations’ section). Highly, uh, recommended! Mathematics is an important aspect of economics, I think, but Dr. Gibson and other Austrian critiques are more focused on the models that economists create rather than all of the wonderful data that can be quantified for calculation purposes.

I may be wrong, and I hope that my co-bloggers or others will correct me if I am, but either way Dr. Gibson’s critique of the mathematical models employed in the economics profession needs another good look.

7 thoughts on “What Good Are Mathematical Models for the Science of Economics?

  1. Wow, this is absolutely fascinating. Especially considering I’m an economics major, math minor, and I’m currently enrolled in an economics class in which the professor said, on the first day, “All the economics you will hear in this class you have already learned. This is basically calculus analysis.”

    I’m going to read the whole thing and offer my opinion once I get a chance. Great post.

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