Styles of Thought in Economics
By Arnold Kling
Seth Roberts interviews Tyler Cowen, who says,
I am very interested in the topic of “styles of thought in economics.”
Robert Solow, my thesis adviser, was a big fan of starting with simple numerical examples. The point is that you want to really understand your analysis. The opposite would be somebody who does a computer simulation and says, “We got this really interesting result. We don’t know why, but we got it.” Or somebody who builds a complex mathematical model and cannot tell you how the assumptions drove the results. To me, finding a result that you do not understand is a waste of time.
In general, I think that the economists I most want to emulate are those who can contemplate being wrong. My undergraduate professor, Bernie Saffran, used to say “I’m willing to be wrong.” Tyler is an example of someone who is often testing his own beliefs and those of other libertarians. He is willing to “afflict the comfortable” when it comes to libertarian beliefs.
I respect someone who says, “I believe X, but here are three arguments against X that are quite strong.” Instead, people often prefer to attack the weakest arguments from the other side. That is the sign of an intellectual bully. Pick on someone your own size.