Michael Hirsh: Our Best Minds Are Failing Us

Historians in the News

[Hirsh is the author of the newly published Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future Over to Wall Street.]

...Recently, the National Science Foundation sent out a query asking economists and social scientists to draw up “grand challenge questions that are both foundational and transformative”—a request that one recipient, Andrew Lo, a highly regarded financial economist at MIT, says is a first in his experience. But one problem is that the economics profession “has gotten much more intolerant of divergence from orthodoxy,” says Philip Mirowski, an economic historian at Notre Dame. “The range in which dissent happens is so narrow. In a sense they still cannot imagine the system can operate to undermine itself. That is not a position that is allowed anywhere in the economics profession. The field got rid of methodological self-criticism. This Great Moderation stuff was just arrogance, hubris.” Indeed, the joke on economists, says one of them, Rob Johnson, is that they create simplistic models that depend on people behaving as rational actors motivated by self-interest, yet “they have a blind spot regarding themselves.” The way they squabble mulishly to defend now-indefensible positions is itself evidence of how flawed those rational-actor models are....

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