The Soul of Economics
The Institute of Philosophy at the University of Zurich is organizing a conference entitled "The Soul of Economics." The conference will take place at the University of Zurich from September 9 to 11, 2019.
Catherine Herfeld (University of Zurich), Chiara Lisciandra (University of Groningen), Carlo Martini (University of Helsinki), Charles Djordjevic (University of Zurich), Jan Müller (University of
Ten years ago, the financial crisis of 2007-08 provoked considerable soul-searching within the economics profession, regarding the methodological and conceptual core of the discipline. This searching was triggered by questions about the potential causes of the crisis. This soul searching also cast doubt on the aptness of old and new theoretical, conceptual, and empirical tools that economists use to explain and predict economic phenomena and to suggest interventions in society. In turn, the epistemic challenges this soul searching engendered concerning these tools have sparked critical reflections on how much the public can trust the opinion of experts and the policy recommendations that economists give.
To make the subject matter and outcome of this soul-searching more explicit, this conference will bring together economists, philosophers of economics, sociologists of economics, and historians of economics to identify the major debates that economists have opened or re-opened in the aftermath of the crisis. The aim of the conference is to provide a platform for reflecting further on such debates and to better understand where the soul-searching could constructively lead us in the future.
The conference will be centered around the discussion of three main areas of ongoing disagreement: first, the debate in macroeconomics about the usefulness of DSGE models and the demand for microfoundations; second, the discussion of the status and usefulness of behavioral economics and how it theoretically and conceptually differs from neoclassical economics; and, third, the debate about the role of methodological consensus to regain public trust in economic expertise. Therefore, the conference will have three separate streams, each addressing a specific area. The streams are: 1) macroeconomics and methodology; 2) microeconomics and psychology; and 3) consensus, expertise, and trust in economics. Focusing on those debates will be informative because they are timely and concern the major methodological issues that economists themselves are currently debating.
Sample questions that we want to address in each stream are:
Macroeconomics and Methodology:
- What is the ontological status of macroeconomic aggregates?
- (How) can and should the aggregation problem be addressed in macroeconomics?
- Should behavioural economics provide microfoundations for macroeconomics?
- What might be plausible alternatives to the representative agent in macroeconomics?
- Is the lack of broad methodological consensus between macroeconomists justified?
- What is and should be the role of evidence in macroeconomics?
- (How) can macroeconomic models be tested?
- What implication(s), if any, would a more psychologically realistic microfoundational base have on macroeconomics?
Microeconomics and Psychology:
- What is the conceptual relationship between neoclassical microeconomics and behavioural economics?
- Is behavioural economics a ‘revolutionary’ program or is it conceptually aligned with neoclassical economics?
- In light of the advances of behavioural economics, what role, if any, should more realistic psychological assumptions play in microeconomic theory?
- What is laudable, and what problematic, about methodological pluralism in economics?
- What form(s) could economic pluralism in microeconomics take (e.g., models pluralism, methodological pluralism, theoretical pluralism) and what is the difference between them?
- How can economists integrate or combine models that differ from each other along multiple lines, from the assumptions and the variables they include, to the mathematical machineries they adopt?
- Which understanding of pluralism grounds the idea that a plurality of models is epistemically more satisfactory than a smaller set of reliable models?
Consensus, Expertise, and Trust in Economics:
- Is there currently enough public trust in the economics profession?
- How can we build a relationship of trust between the economics profession and the general public?
- Has the financial crisis reinforced the demand for consensus in the economics profession?
- Does the demand for consensus go against the demand for methodological pluralism in economics?
- Does pluralism undermine public trust in economics?
- What should be done at the methodological level to increase trust in economics?
- Does an ‘united front’ in the economics profession help foster public trust?
For each debate, we would like to identify what sorts of reforms are being called for, reconstruct opposing positions within each of these debates, and appraise those opposing lines of the arguments in light of the epistemic goals that economists are committed to. This approach makes clear what is at stake in those calls for reforms and under which conditions such reforms should be accepted or rejected.
- Marcel Boumans (Utrecht University)
- Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche (Cambridge University; University of Lausanne)
- Beatrice Cherrier (University of Cergy Pontoise)
- Judith Favereau (University Lyon 2; University of Helsinki)
- Itzhak Gilboa (École des Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris)
- Francesco Guala (University of Milan; Erasmus University Rotterdam)
- Dan Hausman (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
- Kevin Hoover (Duke University)
- Magdalena Małecka (University of Helsinki; Stanford University)
- Caterina Marchionni (University of Helsinki)
- Uskali Mäki (University of Helsinki)
- Don Ross (University of Cork College; University of Cape Town; Georgia State University)
- Ariel Rubinstein (Tel Aviv University; New York University)
- Johanna Thoma (London School of Economics)