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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 9-10 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague Jim Buchanan‘s 1966 paper “Economics and Its Scientific Neighbors,” as this paper is reprinted in Moral Science and Moral Order (2001), Vol. 17 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan:

The physical scientist can, I think, learn much from the economist.  Essentially, he can learn humility as he appreciates the limitations of science and scientific method in application to the inordinately complex problems of human relationships.  To the extent that he can learn that, by comparison, his own problems are indeed elementary; despite his great achievements, he becomes both a better scientist and a better citizen.

DBx: Physical scientists’ frequent failure to grasp the nature of the economy and of society leads them to regard the economy and society as entities to be studied in the same way that scientists study phenomena such as the cosmos and chemical reactions.  But such purely physical phenomena are far less complex in their structures and their interrelationships than are social phenomena.  Failure to recognize this reality is furthered by careless labeling that lumps myriad and often conflicting smaller entities into one large and seemingly homogeneous unit (for example, our talk of “the American economy” or of “the business community”).  Social scientists’ own careless – and sometimes downright reckless – use of aggregates (such as the Keynesian notion of “aggregate demand”) only further furthers the failure to recognize the vital details of social interactions and reactions.

All of this failure to correctly understand the complexity of society contributes to the false and dangerous impression that society and the economy are things to be engineered.


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