economics

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David Orrell, a mathematician who works on biological problems, recently published a book called Economyths: Ten Ways Economics Gets It Wrong. Economyths is a terrible, willfully ignorant, deeply anti-intellectual book. The characterization of economic thought presented is ridiculous. The level of scholarship is abysmal.

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It is often, correctly I think, noted that economists are relatively bad at communicating results from economic research to the general public. A related failure is economists tend to be relatively bad at squashing ridiculous criticism of economics. Economics, biology, and climatology are all disciplines which tend to attract lots of craptastic criticism, and for similar reasons. One might think that biologists in particular might tread carefully when attacking other disciplines, given how much nonsense is written by creationists and their fellow travellers. Alas, some of the most egregiously poorly-aimed attacks on economics come from biologists, and not just David Suzuki.

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The movie Sideways impugned merlot and heaped praise on pinot noir. Did Sideways cause changes in market outcomes for these varietals?

In The Sideways Effect: A test of changes in demand for merlot and pinot noir wines Cuellar et al provide some econometric evidence. They look for post-Sideways price and quantity changes in merlot and pinot noir relative to the “control” varietal cabernet sauvignon using scan data from the U.S.

First consider quantities:

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Bryan Caplan speculates on reasons for the decline of economic theory, an apparent reduction over the last two decades in the status of theory in economics. He wonders how to measure changes in the status of theory and, assuming theory has declined, why?

My casual empiricism agrees with Bryan’s. What does actual empiricism say? As a crude first pass, I counted the number of articles in Jstor economics journals that contain the word “regression.” Of course not all articles that contain that word are empirical, nor do all empirical papers contain that word, but it seems a reasonable signal of empirical content. The proportion over time (one observation per decade) looks like
which shows that in the sample of journals tracked by jstor (which changes over time, muddying interpretation) the proportion of empirical papers, or at least papers which for some reason mention regressions, has been steadily increasing, although the rate of increase seems to have been lower 1970-2000 than prior to 1970 or after 2000.

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How can it be that David Suzuki can so consistently and for so long get this straightforward concept so spectacularly wrong?

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