I tried to avoid block-quoting in my last post, which was intended as more of an essay. Here are some follow-up points on the question of where and how economics can go.
Nassim Taleb, whose black swans I mentioned minutes ago, has a post with some predictions about our world in 2036. I think that he and I may think alike on how to approach the environment:
Science will produce smaller and smaller gains in the non-linear domain, in spite of the enormous resources it will consume; instead it will start focusing on what it cannot—and should not—do. Finally, what is now called academic economics will be treated with the same disrespect that rigorous (and practical) minds currently have for Derrida-style post-modernist verbiage.
Of course, Taleb doesn’t offer much of a vision for economics and science going forward, because that wasn’t in the scope of his post. Now, my last post certainly offered one vision for what a different economics can look like, but is limited by the scope of my own knowledge and understanding. Julie Nelson, on the other hand, is an accomplished economist and has a great open comment to the NSF on next-generational research challenges. You should read the whole thing, as she gets at many of the points I made in my previous post, but elaborates on them better than I ever could. Here’s are some of her best sentences:
There is, however, another solution, which involves recognizing the inescapable intertwining of fact and value, while continuing the systematic search for reliable knowledge. Amartya Sen has called this “transpositional” objectivity. This (in fact more exacting) standard of objectivity requires that the viewpoints and values underlying the analysis be brought out into the open and subjected to scrutiny…
Re-evaluating the role of ethics in economics challenges assumptions that are deep-seated in the mainstream of U.S. economics. Accordingly, improving economic analysis of climate change will require a multi-pronged effort…The rising generation, given their energy and larger stake in the outcomes of climate change policy, should be a key part of this transformation…
As Nelson points out, shifts like this one require funding bodies like NSF to embrace a new vision for economics. If more economists like Nelson speak up and NSF pays heed, economics in 2036 will look a lot more like an economics of Stewardship, and today’s academic economics will indeed look simply arachaic.
P.S. I wrote my entire last post without mention of the Catholic Social Tradition in stewardship. It would be an understatement to say it’s greatly informed my thinking of these issues. The best starting point on that topic is JPII’s Sollicitudo rei socialis. The USCCB’s pastoral letter is also helpful on these issues.