EIPE20 Anniversary Conference, Day 2

It is a tough day, and it is not over at all. Today’s plenary session was presented by Johanna Thoma and Francois Claveau at the Pavilion of the university. This is an iconic place of the campus. Johanna talked about preference-based instrumental rationality. I have got some new insights on rational choice theory. The outlines have always been clear, but I was curious about the details… how economists use this framework in practical terms. Now I see what the problem is. This theory helps us to explain human decisions on the basis of preferences and the rationality postulate. There are some extraordinary patterns in human decisions and some extraordinary sets of preferences, so the task to complete is to give a rational account of them within this theoretical framework. How can this model be modified so that phenomena out of the ordinary can be explained or understood as well?

Francois gave a speech on an interesting topic: Central banks as experts. It is rather personal, but this guy moved and acted (and actually looked) on the stage like Mark Zuckerberg. Funny. He walked up and down in a really cool style… but for me… this is strange. It is not good or wrong… just strange. For me the great economists of the 70’s and the 80’s have always been the models. To step up the stage, to walk to the desk, to put on the glasses and to read the lecture. In a calm and elegant way. This new thing… is just a show. But admittedly, the world has really changed. If you are a scientist… you need to be a showman as well. All in all, Francois’ lecture was interesting. He talked about central bank communication in a context where central banks are surrounded by the public as an epistemic community. His theory is called applied social epistemology. His work seems to be interesting as for revealing the hidden structures of the communication between central banks and the public.

Let’s see some interesting lessons from today’s panel sessions. Michael Joffe expressed his strong interest in biology. He always turns to biology in order to find a discipline that is used for scrutinizing some complex, heterogeneous and open-ended processes of reality. For him biology is an empirically-based causal theory. This is the method of natural sciences. That is, such disciplines start from reality itself-and this is the big picture to which economics makes a difference. It was nice to hear that he referred to F53 as a meta-theory directed to highlighting false causal mechanisms… but I am still dissatisfied because Michael depicted economics (as such) as the enterprise of missing the point. Models should capture a causal mechanism-but is it serious that ALL of our models fail to capture actual-plausible mechaisms…? I don’t think so…

Actually, Michael’s account seems to be a further item in the institutionalist critique. For example, the theory of money creation should be based on real/actual behaviour of real/actual agents, according to him. But for me this is clear that we have more options than capturing all the mechanisms vs. capturing nothing. Modern economics is about highlighting only one mechanism-meaning… one at a time. So we can be realists by setting up extremely abstract models. Michael wanted to call attention to the fact that some mechanisms are left out of our models. But I think this has always been on purpose!

Virginia Ghiara talked about Process Tracing as a means of testing and creating hypotheses. Now I am under the slight impression that Process Tracing is the macro-version of experimental economics. In both cases we are interested in collecting data on elementary human actions-it is the volume that makes the only difference. But these are only impressions…

Then there came my lecture. I was shocked at the very beginning because in the first minutes of the session Mäki Uskali joined us in the room. He is the leading international figure of the realist interpretation of modern economics, so it was my great pleasure to see him in the audience. I talked about the Friedman-Lucas-RBC line, on which Lucas performed a realist break, while Friedman and RBC were instrumentalists. Actually, I could surprise the colleagues. To my shock, Lucas is often labelled as an instrumentalist or anti-realist, but this view seems to be ungrounded. It all is about the methodology of creating unrealistic assumptions in order to set a realist theory-a theory that is directed at revealing the consequences of some plausible causal mechanisms. I don’t need to be an anti-realist just because I use unrealistic assumptions. By using appropriate assumptions I can tie my models to reality, no matter how unrealistic they are, provided they are set up from real constituents of reality.

This has been the day so far. Soon I need to leave for the anniversary party at Hotel Bazar.



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