Aug 25, 2014

Coase on economics expansion

In the essay "Economics and contiguous disciplines" (1978) Ronald Coase wrote about how economists were extending their analysis into other disciplines. He was a great writer, and had a good sense of humor. He said:
What is the reason this is happening? One completely satisfying explanation (in more than one sense) would be that economists have by now solved all of the major problems posed by the economics system, and, therefore, rather than become unemployed or be forced to deal with the trivial problems which remain to be solved, have decided to employ their obviously considerable talents in achieving a similar success in the other social sciences. However, it is not possible to examine any area of economics which which I have familiarity without finding major puzzles for which we have no agreed solutions or, indeed, questions to which we have no answers at all. The reason for this movement of economists into neighbouring fields is certainly not that we have solved the problems of the economic system; it would perhaps be more plausible to argue that economists are looking for fields in which they can have some success. p. 37 (in the book).
For him, "the expansion" of economics was a good thing if it contributed to understanding economic systems better. In fact, he argued that only very few economists would be successful at influencing the way other social scientists see their own fields. 

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