Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday grab-bag

Some odds and ends from prowling the Internet this week:

● What is the role of math in economics? According to Noah Smith, the main purpose is to impress and intimidate other people and give the field a bogus aura of “real science.” Paul Krugman says no, the stuff is useful: when you argue in words, you can smuggle in hidden assumptions and conceal contradictions, whereas math forces you to be explicit, for your own good and everyone else’s. 

Robert Waldmann basically sides with Smith – economists’ mathematical hocus-pocus distracts from their absurdly unrealistic assumptions and simplifications – which are made in part just to render the math tractable. Bryan Caplan says economic intuition is the thing – and that when economath contradicts common sense, it’s generally the economath that’s wrong. (Does that mean that economic intuition = common sense? I imagine Robert Waldmann's "economically illiterate man on the street" would have a few pointed comments to make about that.) 

Lastly, Smith notes that he was talking about his personal impressions, and points to his earlier blog post arguing “the more real successes economics achieves, the more good math it will use.”

● What a pity I discovered David Roberts at Grist via his column announcing he is taking a year off. Check out his posts on conservative antipathy to climate science and the ongoing below-the-radar dominance of coal as a global fuel. That’s some good blogging, that is.

● Is the modern economy full of bullshit jobs or does it just look that way because we’re all small cogs in the great machine? (See also Robert Waldmann’s post in the comments on the latter piece.)

What better way to end than with something completely different – a cheesy 1970s-era video of "Since You've Been Gone." I always thought this piece of power-pop bubblegum-for-the-ears was written by Loverboy Rainbow, the band that indelibly imprinted it on my generation’s collective unconscious in 1979. But it turns out the writer was Russ Ballard, seen here performing it in 1976:

Peppy, ain’t it? The circles of flame are a nice touch. Ballard, by the way, was also vocalist on Argent’s immortal “Hold Your Head Up,” apparently while wearing the same shades. Dude got around. 

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