Dear Edgeworth--I am an eighth-year grad student. I think you are unfair in your characterization of economists. We are not all cynics and liars! Yes, true, the majority of us are, but not every single one of us. I mean, I once heard of one who wasn't. As for myself, I am studying this field because I hope to understand the world as it is, not to engage in fantasies. I know that this will hinder me severely in my career. But I believe I can succeed in spite my unorthodox beliefs. Cordially, Klaus
Dear Klaus--You have missed the point entirely. I wrote that we economists, when backed into a corner, will sometimes defend a falsehood with intellectual bullying and duplicitous jargon. But I never said this was a bad thing! Any idiot can say something true about the world around him. It takes talent—genius even—to conjure from thin air a model so meaningless in its convoluted pomposity that of the 6 billion human beings on this planet not one of them would ever behave in accordance with its predictions. Only the most gifted in our profession, unpolluted by any concept of real life as human beings live it, have the ability to concoct works of such blissful counterfactuality.
Why do we congratulate ourselves when our models yield counterintuitive results? Because intuition is a crutch! The more you rely on insights and observations about actual human behavior, the less room there is to rely on mathematics. In the limit, this implies that any knowledge of real human behavior only diminishes the quality of your work as an economist. I, myself, am proud to report that in over 50 articles and publication spanning 35 years, I have never once written anything true or even remotely related to real behaviors. I am equally proud to report that whenever I have a moment of intuition about how real people behave, I suppress it, lest the poison of accuracy and genuine descriptiveness seep into my work.
Klaus writes that he wants to describe the world as it is, so that he can do work that has useful policy implications. Poor, misguided Klaus! He’ll never get his degree. Take my advice, Klaus, while there’s still time: Your job as an economist is not to understand the world. Your job is to understand mathematics. Specifically, your job is to prove to your colleagues that you understand mathematics. For my own part, whenever I read a journal article that contains something believable, my first instinct is to look down on the author. I assume the fellow is a bit of a dim bulb. Believable papers usually have a clarity and simplicity about them. They are straightforward, uncluttered, reasonable. They do not contain fancy methodologies based on preposterous assumptions. They are never more complicated than they need to be. “Dimwit! Where’s your creativity?” I find myself shouting at the byline on the title page. “If you were the least bit imaginative, you would have said something complicated enough to be highly implausible! And if you were really smart—if you were a bona fide economist with an economist’s aesthetic—you wouldn’t have stopped until you had reached those twin pinnacles to which the finest among us aspire: absurdity and irrelevance.”
You see, Klaus, economics is not about finding plausible answers to difficult questions; rather, it is defined by the difficulty of its methodologies and the implausibility of its answers. It is about squeezing every fact you encounter into the same box, regardless of whether it fits. The worse the fit, the better for you! Think of yourself as a butcher, my dear Klaus. If a particular fact or observation doesn’t fit into the box at all, you get to show off your dexterity with the tools of the trade—our conceptual meat cleavers—by artfully dismembering the fact until it fits.
I let go of my interest in life, truth, and policy implications many years ago--and I must say, I owe all my academic success to that one fateful decision. Let go of your attachment to the truth, Klaus. It will only get in your way. Let go, let go, let go. You will never regret it! Drink the Kool-Aid, dear Klaus, and become one of us.