A Question for the Economists


In an op-ed in The Weekly Standard, Harvey C. Mansfield, Professor of political science at Harvard University, wrote on the failure of economists to predict crises.

“One group of those involved in the present financial crisis has so far escaped notice – the economists. They are masters in the science of prediction, but as a group, if not to a man, they failed to predict a crisis that has wiped out nearly half the wealth invested in the stock market and elsewhere (measured of course from the peak). The economists did no better than their unscientific rivals, the stock pickers, who are in the business of prediction.

Perhaps we need a second look not merely at the existing models by which economists predict but at the very idea of prediction as the goal of social science. Economists had been in the habit of asserting that they had come a long way since the Depression, that such an event could not happen again. Yet people are now actually speaking of another Depression as possible. Maybe we know how to avoid the Depression we had, but what about a new one with a new character we do not recognize? Isn’t our present crisis new? Isn’t every crisis new – since surprise is the essence of crisis? If prediction were reliable, we would be prepared for every chance, and our lives would be crisis-free and much duller.”

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