Sunday, March 4, 2018

Diane Coyle — Economies in space and time

This is a book review, but it is also a short summary of economic geography. For example, David Harvey is geographer that applies Marxian economics to geography, even though many likely think of him as being an economist.

Geography is important, but most macroeconomists don't know much about it because it has not been integrated into the curriculum, so economists don't study it. Same with history. But economics is very much influenced by location (space) and period (time).
There’s a section of Economic Geography: A Critical Introduction by Trevor Barnes and Brett Christophers about the richness of border zones – not physical ones as these tend to be quite the opposite when it comes to economic activity, but intellectual.
Interdisciplinarity has been a buzzword for a long time, and immensely hard to achieve within conventional academic structures. But perhaps its moment has come. At any rate, the number of in-principle interdisciplinary research centres is increasing (including the new Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge, which I join tomorrow). Perhaps more important, more and more people appreciate that solving pressing challenges – ageing, the consequences of climate change, trade wars, technological change – requires multiple social science, humanities and scientific perspectives.
Besides, I’ve always found the borders of economics interesting, including economic geography. The gap between economists who do geography and geographers who think about the economy has perhaps been narrowing in recent times.
Diane Coyle also make an interesting observation about economics and evolution, although she doesn't explicitly identify it as such. It is worth noting.
We economists do have a habit of presenting as marvellous new insights things other disciplines have known for ages, albeit wrapped in some nice econometrics. However – and inevitably there are some frictions in this process of inter-disciplinary engagement – it’s bemusing-to-painful to see how economics is perceived. The book describes (mainstream) economics as being only about constrained optimisation, which is the kind of reductionist statement an economist might make (and anyway, constrained optimisation under conditions of asymmetric information is everywhere in nature). It also defines the economy and economics as being essentially about ‘materiality’, material resources. Surely this can’t be literally intended? But in that case I’m not sure what this means.
This observation can be greatly expanded.

There is a difference between restricting assumptions for modeling simplification and ontological reductionism that takes absence as indicative of non-existence. For example, quality is often eliminated from scientific modeling for methodological convenience, but it does not follow from this that quality either doesn't exist, is trivial, or is unimportant in a larger context.

The Enlightened Economist
Economies in space and time
Diane Coyle | freelance economist and a former advisor to the UK Treasury. She is a member of the UK Competition Commission and is acting Chairman of the BBC Trust, the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation

1 comment:

Schofield said...

Sure life is binary - predation and anti-predation activity.