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Paul Krugman: Maybe Economics Is A Science, But Many Economists Are Not Scientists: Noted

Paul Krugman: Maybe Economics Is A Science, But Many Economists Are Not Scientists:

Raj Chetty stands up valiantly for the honor of his and my profession.... And in many ways I agree: there is a lot of good research in economics.... But while there are clearly scientific elements in economics, a lot of economists aren’t behaving like scientists. Look at Chetty’s examples....

Consider the politically charged question of whether extending unemployment benefits increases unemployment rates by reducing workers’ incentives to return to work. Nearly a dozen economic studies have analyzed this question.... These studies have uniformly found that a 10-week extension in unemployment benefits raises the average amount of time people spend out of work by at most one week. This simple, unassailable finding implies that policy makers can extend unemployment benefits to provide assistance to those out of work without substantially increasing unemployment rates....

But are such results actually being used to inform policy debate? Have conservative economists like Casey Mulligan said “OK, we were wrong to argue that extended unemployment benefits are the cause of high unemployment”? Have economists who oppose Obamacare said, “OK, we were wrong to say that Medicaid hurts its recipients?”

You know the answer.

And it’s not just policy debates. Whole subfields of economics, notably but not only business-cycle macro, have spent decades chasing their own tails because too many economists refuse to accept empirical evidence that rejects their approach. The point is that while Chetty is right that economics can be and sometimes is a scientific field in the sense that theories are testable and there are researchers doing the testing, all too many economists treat their field as a form of theology instead.