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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 6 of the second edition (1998) of Deirdre McCloskey’s path-breaking 1985 volume, The Rhetoric of Economics (original emphasis):

[T]o do a useful piece of economic analysis you need to have finished the course.  The noneconomists imagine it’s enough to have some first-week idea of what “oligopoly” means.  Economics is in fact a good example of the “hermeneutic circle”: you need to know the argument overall to understand the details, and the details to understand the argument.

I do not interpret Deirdre here to be saying that only people who are formally trained in economics can successfully master the economic way of thinking.  Plenty of people manage, with natural smarts and good judgment, to think pretty deeply about economic matters even though they’ve never taken a formal course in economics – and, heaven knows, plenty of PhD economists have yet to master the economic way of thinking.  It is true, though, that many concepts in formal economics – concepts such as demand, oligopoly, comparative advantage, public goods, and debt burden, to name a few – too easily mislead into error many people who have only a passing knowledge of the formal meanings and contexts of these concepts.  (Indeed, sometimes even trained economists are misled if they – as is sadly too typical – being insufficiently familiar with the history of their discipline, use an economics term or concept that is outside of their area of narrow specialization.)


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