Concluding Notes

George Bernard Shaw wrote that if all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion. Though there is a general perception that Shaw was right, and that economists disagree about everything, there are in fact substantial areas of agreement among economists. However, there are no issues on which 100% of economists agree; there are fringe positions on all issues (as there are in physics, biology, geology, etc.). Most fringe positions are crackpot ideas, and if you search the internet, you can find some of them. A few are not crackpot ideas, but will become the conventional wisdom of the future. As the introduction told you, economics is a science, and as a science, everything economists think they know is subject to alteration and change. One hundred years from now economics textbooks will be noticeably different from those of today.

Fields in which controlled experiments can be conducted have much less disagreement than fields in which controlled experiments cannot be conducted. There is a much larger body of physics or chemistry about which there is little or no disagreement than there is of economics. But the areas of agreement in fields such as history, psychology, sociology, and anthropology are not substantially larger than those in economics, and may be smaller. Economics studies very complex systems, systems that have interactions producing unexpected consequences to many actions. Economists are limited to using whatever data those systems provide, and often the data they do provide is difficult to measure. If economists could roll back history and rerun the 1930s (or any other decade) five or six times, changing each time just a few variables, the area of agreement among economists would grow considerably. But they cannot. Disagreement will never disappear in macroeconomics. But even if there are sizable areas of disagreement, large areas about which almost all economists agree can exist.

Back to Overview
Copyright Robert Schenk