Economics and Autism
By Arnold Kling
A systemizer is somebody whose style of thinking is predominantly in terms of understanding things according to rules or laws. You can think of lots of different kinds of systems: mathematical systems (algebra, computer programs), or mechanical systems (computers or cars); natural systems (weather, or rocks, geology); and social systems (businesses, or the military).
In each case, when you systemize what you do, you try to understand the system in terms of the laws that govern the system. Economics would be an example of a system, where people are trying to predict a crash, or predict what’s going to happen in terms of stock markets. They are trying to understand things according to laws or rules. The theory we are testing is that if you have a mother and a father who are both systemizers, the risk of the child having autism increases.
So, if both of your parents are economists, your likelihood of autism increases. At the minimum, you are at risk for becoming an economist who carelessly offends people who are empathizers rather than systemizers. Especially if you become President of Harvard.
The quote above is from earlier this year. I was reminded of this when Baron-Cohen wrote a shorter piece in the NY Times while I was on vacation.
Of course, there is the Post-autistic Economic Network, for those who think that systematic approaches to economics are a form of mental illness.
I consider myself more of a systemizer than an empathizer, in Baron-Cohen’s scheme. And I think that a lot of what makes economics cool is the way it shows that empathizers get it wrong when viewed from a systemizer’s perspective (think of the impact of minimum wage laws, for example. Or sweatshops.)
But I think that as systemizers, we go overboard with math. Math appeals to systemizers, but not all systems analysis is mathematical. This is an issue I keep talking about–maybe I need to sit down and write something more systematic about it.