Focusing on Fatas Focusing in Economics Education

Via Mark Thoma, Antonio Fatas has a really excellent post on what’s wrong with economics education. It is too good to excerpt (and besides Thoma does that better than I can).

I was particularly interested in one of Fatas’s points

#3 The need for a unified theory. The idea that economics is a rigorous science pushes economists to look for consistency via a unified framework when we teach the subject. We want to have one model to explain everything. The use of small and some times inconsistent partial equilibrium models to explain real-world phenomena is seeing as a sign of weakness. A unified theory that is consistent (even if it does not explain much of what we seen in the real world) is always the way to go. Yes, a unified theory would be great, but we need to be realistic.

Here I think part of the issue is that economists think of physics when economists think of “a rigorous science”. The definition of physics is the search for universal natural laws. Other natural sciences are not physics. A biologist must reconcile his or her theories with all the data including that collected by physicists, but is not looking for new universal laws. They all assume that most of what they learn about life on earth will not be true of life on other planets. There are surprising similarities between extremely different organisms on earth, but the point is they were surprising.