I’ve probably missed this by a few weeks on Andrew Leigh’s blog, but for those who’ve not seen it and want to listen to a podcast on the new economics do so here at open source radio who have put together a program on the explosion of empirical analysis being done on social phenomena by econometricians in the spirit of Freakonomics. The program includes a good chunk of time with economist Justin Wolfers who seems to be doing a better than average (but not perfect) job of keeping his accent in that den of iniquity otherwise known as the United States.
In it (I think) Dianne Coyle agrees with the proposition that economics courses shouldn’t force their students to study micro and macro-economics. I agree, but a more sensible way to make the point would be for her and the others not to say that what they are doing is economics. They all learned the techniques they are using by training as economists and so they all know the economics they would have been taught as part of the package. But using econometric techniques to analyse what policies are most conducive to high quality teaching, or lower levels of hosptial accidents or whether Sumo wrestlers are cheating is only economics by provenance rather than by content.
Some of what these people do is economics and is some of the most important and promising economics that has come along in the last few decades. I’m all for it. But what defines what they do is the techniques they bring (developed in econometrics) to the torrent of data that is now available. Personally I think that a lot of the work they do should be called ‘social statisticians’ or something like that rather than economics. This is a fairly idle thought – and not intended to suggest that the arrival of such work is anything other than a boon. And yes I agree with Diane Coyle, why bog people down with economic theory unless and until they need it.
Anyway, go listen to the podcast if you’re interested.