Young Economics.

The Post-Apocalyptic Librarian

with one comment

Economics: science or not? The question tends to meet with sneers from people on either end of the empirical spectrum. Physicists can’t help but compare their accuracy in forecasting eclipses centuries away with our inability to predict next week’s financial crisis. Sociologists just think we’re pretentious dicks.

Here’s one way of thinking about it. Let’s say you’re one of the last survivors of the apocalypse, doing your best to rebuild society from the irradiated/meteor-pocked/zombie-infested ruins. One day, you stumble upon a library. What books are worth keeping and which should be fed to the fire in order to scare off the wolves?

It seems to me that economics books would be among the first to go, and rightly so. Not only are they generally hefty enough to get a nice burn going, but most of the knowledge contained therein is very time-specific. The laws of physics are immutable, at least until another Big Bang rewrites the universe. Variation in biology is on an evolutionary time-scale. Chemistry’s insights about fermentation are relevant so long as humans exist. These sciences are working to increase our knowledge about the world in areas that are static. Dizzyingly complex, difficult to measure and occasionally misleading, yes. But static.

By contrast, economics is very, very tied to its time and place. The concepts of Pareto efficiency and gains from trade are not so much wrong as irrelevant in a world where violence has replaced currency as the medium of exchange. Few of our insights about the modern economy translate well to the feudal system. The further you get from our current economy of productivity and voluntary exchange, the more tenuous our theoretical foundation becomes. Economists are dealing with systems with an inherently adaptable and unpredictable human element, so, like our survivor, we’re constantly shooting at moving targets.

And that is why the post-apocalyptic librarian is right to burn economics texts. But it’s still a science.


Written by manopoly

March 4, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. haha, like it. we just still have to wait for the right apple to hit our “Newton”, i hope this happen in a future that i can see.


    March 5, 2009 at 2:46 am

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