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Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science Hardcover – October 13, 2015
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“Economics Rules, by one of the world's truly great economists, describes in fascinating and incredibly well-written detail what it means to be an economist. In so doing it explains why, and when, economists often get it right, but also why they also frequently go astray.”
- George Akerlof, Nobel laureate in economics
“The best economists make the best methodologists, and Dani Rodrik is both. His Economics Rules is the single best source for explaining the strengths and weaknesses of economics to an outside audience.”
- Tyler Cowen, George Mason University, author of The Great Stagnation
“In Economics Rules, enjoyment enhances learning, with lessons for economists and non-economists alike―indeed, ten commandments for each. The book is a page-turner with every page carrying an important and memorable take-away.”
- Margaret Levi, director, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
About the Author
Dani Rodrik, a prize-winning economist, is the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of The Globalization Paradox and Economics Rules.
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Unlike physics, which has, more or less, a central theory of how the universe works, Economics will always be a pluralistic pursuit. One model will never suit all areas of the economy. So, an economist must pick a model that suits a particular problem. Rodrik admits that this is more art than science, and involves a great deal of intuition. This, Rodrik explains, is not taught to graduate students, and is largely learned by economists early in their career by trial and error or informal professional guidance.
Overall, this is an informative book. Rodrik does go into the weeds sometimes, getting off target, getting a bit too technical at times. Still, Rodrik makes great points about the field. He provides a view of Economics that is not dogmatic, while also not overly cynical either.
Off the bat, I must admit that I can't write a better review than the one Ariel Rubinstein recently published in the Journal of Economic Literature. His book "Economic Fables" is a similar, more personal, version of Rodrik's "Economics Rules", and a great read as well. (Google Rubinstein's review and read "Economic Fables" in parallel to this book.)
Rodrik lays down an eloquent defense of current economic epistemology and an attack on the sociology of the discipline. He makes a vehement defense for understanding economic phenomena through highly-flexible mathematical models, capable of shedding light in many diverse situations, and disciplined by evidence. His view of economic models is noteworthy: they "enable the accumulation of knowledge, by expanding the set of plausible explanations for, and our understanding of, a variety of social phenomena." (p. 46). Models support a particular sociology of science within economics, one that Rodrik thinks makes the discipline a success among the social sciences but, at the same time, gives the profession a bad reputation for insulation and arrogance.
The book is an invitation to divert attention from the easy, boilerplate criticisms of economics, to the deep issues in the profession. It would be great if casual critics of economics take Rodrik's offer at face value: "It is better for the public to be exposed to these disagreements and uncertainties than to be lulled into a false sense of confidence about the answers that economics provides." (p. 209).
If you're an economist you'll probably learn a thing or two. If you are not, you will walk away with a better understanding of what economics is and what economists really do.
I appreciate Rodrik's undogmatic and eclectic approach to doing economics. Also, I believe that is the right attitude to knowledge-seeking.