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Ariel Rubinstein on Economics Rules

Summary:
The great Ariel Rubinstein has a review of my book Economics Rules in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Literature. It is a fun review – gratifying for me because Ariel agrees with many of my arguments – and it has a deeply personal, even emotional, feel to it. Ariel feels strongly about the turn the profession has taken, and agree or not, the essay makes for a very interesting read. The review took me back to my graduate-student days at Princeton. The place had a very strong crop of theorists among the graduate students, and I used to hang out with them a lot. I am not sure quite why, since what I did was very different from what they did. But they were the most fun bunch in Princeton at the time. I have fun memories of many a drunken night at the Annex – the student bar long since gone. I remember distinctly our contrasting attitudes to Economics. The theorists had it all together; they knew what they were doing and had few questions about methods or approach. By contrast, I was full of doubt and uncertainty: What was I doing in Economics? Did Economics really help answer any of the big questions? How would we know? At one of our gatherings, I tried to voice some concerns about economic methodology. One of the theorists impatiently brushed me off. “Why do you bother with methodology,” he asked. “It’s a waste of time. Do your work.

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The great Ariel Rubinstein has a review of my book Economics Rules in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Literature. It is a fun review – gratifying for me because Ariel agrees with many of my arguments – and it has a deeply personal, even emotional, feel to it. Ariel feels strongly about the turn the profession has taken, and agree or not, the essay makes for a very interesting read.

The review took me back to my graduate-student days at Princeton. The place had a very strong crop of theorists among the graduate students, and I used to hang out with them a lot. I am not sure quite why, since what I did was very different from what they did. But they were the most fun bunch in Princeton at the time. I have fun memories of many a drunken night at the Annex – the student bar long since gone.

I remember distinctly our contrasting attitudes to Economics. The theorists had it all together; they knew what they were doing and had few questions about methods or approach. By contrast, I was full of doubt and uncertainty: What was I doing in Economics? Did Economics really help answer any of the big questions? How would we know?

At one of our gatherings, I tried to voice some concerns about economic methodology. One of the theorists impatiently brushed me off. “Why do you bother with methodology,” he asked. “It’s a waste of time. Do your work.”  I tried to convince him that these were interesting and important questions. “Maybe so,” he said. “But if any important result comes out of it, someone will tell us and we will know.”

Ariel is evidently a different kind of theorist. He cares about method and doesn’t think we should leave it to just methodologists or philosophers of science. Do read his Economics Fables.  

Dani Rodrik
I am an economist, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. My most recent book is Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science (Norton, 2015). I was born and grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. I still follow Turkish politics very closely, as you will find out if you spend any time with this blog.

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