MICROECONOMISTS are wrong about specific things, Yoram Bauman, an economist and comedian, likes to say, whereas macroeconomists are wrong in general. Macroeconomists have borne the brunt of public criticism over the past decade, a period marked by financial crisis, soaring unemployment and bitter arguments between the profession’s brightest stars. Yet the vast majority of practising dismal scientists are microeconomists, studying the behaviour of people and firms in individual markets. Their work is influential and touches on all aspects of social policy. But it is no less fraught than the study of the world economy, and should be treated with corresponding caution.
For decades non-economists have attacked the assumptions underlying economic theory: that people are perfectly informed maximisers of their own self-interest, for instance. Although economists are aware that markets fail and humans are not always rational, many of their investigations still rely on neoclassical assumptions as “good...Continue reading