Sunday, September 30, 2012

Having fun with economics and Lord Skidelsky

I participated in the 11th International Post Keynesian Conference in Kansas City this weekend and presented a paper on the effect of government intervention in a macro model based on a system of ODE first developed by Steve Keen, who presented just before me.

The conference itself was a bit of a sleepy affair, with most of the other talks I attended being more literary criticism (e.g several quotes from Keynes, Minsky, and others, strung together and compared with recent events) than actual modelling.

My overall impression is that if this is all that heterodoxy has to offer as an alternative to mainstream economics, then the profession is in deeper trouble than I thought.

But the highlight was the keynote after dinner speech by none other than Lord Robert Skidelsky (his business card actually says "Lord Skidelsky", no joking!)

He started his speech with a joke saying that when John Kenneth Galbraith wrote an economic report to Lyndon Johnson, the president allegedly said "You know Ken, talking about economics is like peeing in you pants, it feels hot to you, but leaves everyone else in the cold", then proceeded to say that he was reminded of this story by listening to mathematicians earlier in the afternoon, who appeared to be having to much fun with his models (Steve and me!). Then at the Q&A session, his advice to an economics grad student included "don't use math". Finally when I asked him directly what his advice to  mathematician trying to contribute to economics would be, he offered this gem: "well sometimes you just need to tell what hullaballoo is all about".

So apart from all the fun to be had with economics (which I'll continue to do), I think that between the hyper mathematical (but incorrect!) DSGE guys on the mainstream and the math phobics in the fringes, this is going to be an uphill battle.