Monday, March 17, 2008

Most economic theory is like mathematical masturbation?

Chris Blattman on What to read in development?

Does most economic theory serve status alone? Too much does feel like mathematical masturbation. Even so, a great deal is extremely useful and insightful. The trick is to learn to separate the two. I still struggle to do so.

Keep in mind, some undergraduate economic theory is simpler, but also simply wrong. Take the notion that trade is driven by comparative advantage, for instance. Comparative advantage is a sensible argument regularly trotted out by think tankers and The Economist, and yet it has little empirical support in reality. The more sophisticated models of trade--by Helpman, Grossman, and Krugman, for instance (yes, that Krugman)--appear to be much better at describing actual trade flows and policy. But this theory is less commonly seen at the undergraduate level.

What about the development economics literature? Unfortunately much of the good economics is poorly written, and the well-written economics is seldom good.

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