How Economists Work and Think: Review of The World in the Model by Mary S. Morgan, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2012
The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think is a timely and important book. Fordecades now, but especially in the years following the financial crisis, economistsÕ modelingpractices have been the target of a sustained critique. Under slogans such as Òeconomics isabout people, not curves,Ó critics have attacked the use of formal and abstract models ineconomics in favor of the careful historical study of observable social phenomena. If the battlelines look familiar, it may be because they largely mirror those drawn during theMethod enstreit a century ago. The critique has succeeded in inspiring a series of movements among economics students in Spain, the UK, and elsewhere, but in spite of its venerable history appears to have been largely ineffective in changing the minds of practicing economists. To them, it does not reflect more than a superficial understanding of what they aretrying to accomplish by means of their modeling practices; nor does it propose what seems tothem a workable alternative approach.Meanwhile, philosophical literature on models and modeling in economics often fallsshort. For one thing, many contributions to this literature fail at the outset to adequatelydelineate the extension of the word model, thereby leaving it open to what sort of thing, precisely, the analysis is supposed to apply. Moreover, much of this literature depends to agreat extent on metaphors that are immediately appealing, but whose exact implicationsremain unspecified. For both these reasons, philosophical accounts of models and modelingare often hard to assess. And, more importantly in the present context, they don’t shed as much light as they should on contemporary economic modeling practices, their strengths and weaknesses.
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