Monday, November 17, 2008
Economists should work as chemists do
The notebook of Marie Curie, tragically, is smeared with radioactive fingerprints: people of her generation did not know how dangerous radiations could be. This image is from aip.org
If like me you keep a look on C-SPAN, you got to admit (surprise, surprise) that some people in Washington are smarter than you and me. So what is it that does not work? It is not corruption, we always have too much corruption, but not enough to justify our stagnation.
Some people get so exasperated by our muddy economics, that they would gladly let go of the federal reserve altogether (check for instance the interesting site of co-stumbler LesLafave here). But I am not sure that any ideology is the guilty part: past experiences show that zero intervention does not work and too much intervention does not work either.
I think that sometimes, smart people get lost in the details instead of keeping the aim in mind. They should do like the old chemists did.
Many years ago, a chemistry Prof of New Zealand, Keith Hunter,check him here told me that a chemist notebook should always start with writing down what is the aim of the experiment. In a chemistry notebook, you write down everything, because trivial things like using glass or plastic could explain why you have contamination or why you cannot reproduce earlier results. Why do you write down the aim? Because you can get lost in so many sub-experiments, such as checking the use of plastic vs the use of glass that your original intention can very well get lost in the details.
Dear economists, please work as chemists do. After consulting, getting counter-proposals, after the interventions of various ideologues, politicians and lobbyists, after incorporating all the details you had forgotten in the first place, please check again your final thoughts against what you first wanted to accomplish. Are you off course? Does your solution answer the question?