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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 89-90 of Norbert Wiener’s 1964 volume, God and Golem, Inc.; I have not read this Wiener book, but found this quotation on page 39 of Peter Bauer‘s insightful 1969 essay “Development Economics: The Spurious Consensus and Its Background,” which is a chapter in the 1969 collection Roads to Freedom: Essays in Honour of Friedrich A. von Hayek (Erich Streissler, Gottfried Haberler, Friedrich A. Lutz, and Fritz Machlup, eds.):

The success of mathematical physics led the social scientist to be jealous of its power without quite understanding the intellectual attitudes that had contributed to this power.  The use of mathematical formulae had accompanied the development of the natural sciences.  Just as primitive peoples adopt the Western modes of denationalised clothing and of parliamentarianism out of a vague feeling that these magic rites and vestments will at once put them abreast of modern culture and technique, so the economists have developed the habit of dressing up their rather imprecise ideas in the language of the infinitessimal calculus.

In doing this, they show scarcely more discrimination some of the emerging African nations in the assertion of their rights.  Very few econometricians are aware that if they are to imitate the procedure of modern physics and not its mere appearance, a mathematical economist must begin with a critical account of these quantitative notions and the means adopted for collecting and measuring them.

To assign what purports to be precise values to such essentially vague quantities is neither useful nor honest, and any pretense of applying precise formulae to these loosely defined quantities is a sham and a waste of time.

This quotation from Wiener – used favorably by Bauer – can serve as a beautiful summary of the theme of Hayek’s 1952 volume, The Counter-Revolution of Science.