What I've Been Thinking About
A few weeks back, I sat down with the Richmond Fed’s Aaron Steelman for a most enjoyable hour or two talking about my recent research projects and perspectives on economics generally.? If you’re interested in learning more,?click here for the full interview.? Regular readers of this blog may even recognize a few themes that I’ve been hammering away at here on these pages.? At the risk of quoting myself, here are?a few favorite parts:
On the state of economics:
I still believe that economics is the queen of the social sciences. But the metric that leads me to say that is its influence on the world, which is what I think social science should be about. When it comes to almost any public policy problem, you call the economists. This is true in many areas once thought outside of the domain of economics, such as family policy and understanding politics. Economists have been very successful moving into those fields and have provided many important insights.
Economics and her sister social sciences:
The broader issue – the reason why I believe economics is the queen of the social sciences – is this movement of economics beyond GDP. It is hard not to think of Gary Becker as the founder of that, and this has been a very good thing. In sociology, I think our biggest influences have been on research about family or crime, as economists have done a lot of empirical work on those topics. With political science, on topics from election forecasting to political economy, we tend to see quite good empirical work from economists. That’s not to say that we should ignore other research methods. In fact, I had a sociologist on my dissertation committee, Sandy Jencks. I used to joke with Sandy – and he promised not to be offended – that sociologists have great questions and economists have great answers.
OK, so there’s a touch of hubris there.? But probably at least a kernel of truth, too.? But what about psychology?
What is interesting to think about are the terms of trade between economics and all these other disciplines. We are clearly a net exporter to political science and sociology. But at this point the trade with psychology is almost all one way. We are a near-complete importer. I wonder why we haven’t been bigger exporters to psychology. I think it has to do with the research method. Like political scientists and sociologists, economists are almost all about the analysis of observational data. And then there are second-order differences. Formal political scientists write down a model before they observe data; informal ones don’t. Ethnographers observe four people; survey researchers observe 4,000. But it’s all observational. But when I watch and speak with my friends in psychology, very little of their work is about analyzing observational data. It’s about experiments, real experiments, with very interesting interventions. So they have a different method of trying to isolate causation. I am certain that we have an enormous amount to learn from them. But I am curious why we have not been able to convince them of the importance of careful analysis of observational data.
Plus?there’s plenty more, on topics ranging from happiness to prediction markets, discrimination, inflation expectations and political economy.