Is Economics A Science?

There’s a bit of an ongoing debate among hard scientists as to whether or not we should count economists among our number. On the one hand (say those who claim that economics is a science) they perform non-trivial mathematical analysis in order to make quantifiably falsifiable predictions–just like scientists do. On the other hand (say those who claim that it’s not), there is so much disagreement as to what constitute “reasonable assumptions” about Human nature that economists can consistently manage to “prove” whatever it was that they believed in the first place; and so much wiggle-room that economists can always hand-wave away results which seem to disprove their pet theories.

Now, of course, I am not an economist: I do, however, believe that it’s silly to completely dismiss economics as a pseudoscience, since basic observation of world history confirms that some economic principles (such as comparative advantage, the law of supply and demand, and the fact that printing massive amounts of money leads to massive inflation) seem to be absolutely set in stone. But I must say, claims that I have occasionally heard to the effect that “economics is a science with laws as absolute as those of physics,” have always struck me as ridiculous (notably, it was not an actual economist that I heard advance this claim*).

All things considered, personally, I’m inclined to say no, it is not a science, and I am inclined to say so for one simple reason: controversies in science tend to get resolved by experimental evidence after only a few years or so. Meanwhile, it seems like economists have been arguing the same points (particularly regarding the state’s role in the economy) back and forth for over a hundred years. Whether this is just due to difficulties in drawing conclusions from systems as complex as real-world economies, or whether it’s due to blind partisanship on the part of the scholars hardly matters: the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a robust controversy-resolution method in place would seem to disqualify economics from being called a true science.


*It was a libertarian politician–the former head of the Manitoba Marijuana Party, in fact.


About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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One Response to Is Economics A Science?

  1. Rick says:

    I completely agree. My own definition of a science is related to its usefulness as a predictor of outcomes of events- the fact that at best a handful of economist predicted the great recession vs the statements made : ” No one could have predicted the great recession”. If the economists could not predict the second worst depression in the last 100 years, it’s unclear to me that economics is usefull. Contrast this with te vast majority of climate scientist already making predictions about how our climate will change as we add more CO2.
    Like the old saying, ask 2 economists a question, and you’ll get three answers.

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