Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To Kill a Theory

Paul Samuelson once wrote, "In economics, it takes a theory to kill a theory; facts can only dent the theorist's hide."

Specifically which theory was he talking about being "killed" and which other theory was doing the killing?

3 comments:

Larry Signor said...

Good question. Perhaps the answer is a fusing of macro and micro into maicro. Even theories need a couple of facts to bind them to reality.

Magpie said...

Ramrattan and Szenberg[*] also quote Samuelson on that. According to them, the quote comes from:

Samuelson, Paul A. The Collected Scientific Papers of Paul A. Samuelson, edited by Joseph E. Stiglitz. Vol. 2, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966). page 1568

I have no idea about the specific context, but Ramrattan and Szenberg were writing about Samuelson's general philosophy of economics, which, according to them, wasn't positivism. For Samuelson, always following R&S, economic theories were not empirically falsified.

So, perhaps one could think of both the "theories being killed" and the "killer theories" as general descriptors.

[*] Ramrattan, L., & Szenberg, M. (2008). Memorializing Milton Friedman: A Review of His Major Works, 1912-2006. The American Economist, 23-38.

Magpie said...

Oops.

The Ramrattan & Szenberg paper is actually Memorializing Paul A. Samuelson: a review of his major works, 1915 - 2009. The American Economist; vol. 2, no. 55 (2010)

It seems rather mischievous to imply that both old-timers were hard to distinguish... But it was entirely unintentional. :-)