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August 17, 2005

Econ Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Tyler Cowen responds (gently and informatively) to a recent posting of mine where I asked, "Is anything the matter with economics?" Tyler also provides a from-inside-the-beast evaluation of where economics stands today.

* Virginia Postrel delivers what I take to be hopeful news -- sociologists are starting to look at economic life. "We cannot understand how people earn, spend, and invest their money, economic sociologists argue, unless we understand social relations," Virginia writes. "If, as economists contend, incentives and choice are everywhere, so are social conventions and personal connections." And ain't that the case. (Link thanks to ALD.)

* Bryan Caplan wonders if Homo Economicus -- the basic, self-interested, "utility"-maximizing unit of neoclassical economic theory -- might in fact be a sociopath.

* "Humans may be too multi-dimensional and hyper-complex to be usefully captured by econometric models," writes Sam Vaknin.

* The chief economist at Lehman Brothers, John Llewellyn celebrates his 60th birthday by looking back at his 35 years of as an economist. Short version of what he's learned: Let's be a little more modest in our claims, folks. The New Economist comments on Llewellyn's piece.



posted by Michael at August 17, 2005


Caution: Sam Vaknin has spent time in prison and is a tax and embezzlement fugitive from his native country (I think Israel) and freely admits he has been repeatedly diagnosed as a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He wrote a book ("Malignant Self Love") in which he dissects narcissism from his own perspective quite thoroughly---but then rather insidiously reminds the reader that, he is, after all, narcissistic, and it may be skewed. Some of it is pretty good---I think he's also got a PhD in Psychology---but relying on his take on anything seems a bit tenuous to me.

Posted by: annette on August 17, 2005 5:35 PM

Vaknin's something else, isn't he? I don't know what to make of him exactly, and I certainly wouldn't trust him with my life's savings. But he can be terribly smart. I thought his stuff on narcissism was as good as anything I've read. How'd you react to it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2005 11:00 PM

Narcissism--quite a subject, and off the subject of economics (maybe!). He's certainly as thorough and specific about how a narcissist really "feels" inside---how they genuinely see (or don't see)other people, how solely all about the "usefulness" to them (or lack thereof) that others have for them. It certainly makes it clear that narcissim is truly and seriously "disordered", and how "normal" the surface of these people can seem. But...I think he also idealizes it and the "suitable" companions of a narcissist, which isn't surprising, given that he is one. As people say, one of the most insidious traits of a narcissist is their tendancy to create a narrative that "works" for them, even though it is actually quite dishonest, and then insist the others around them "believe" it. Which then makes me wary of just trusting a narcissist's view of themselves, even if he APPEARS TO BE trying to be coldly objective and is not exclusively flattering to himself. I mean---he even points it out in a rather taunting way---I've TOLD you I'm a narcissist and you are still reading my book---think about it! Ick. Talk about turning other people's reality upside down! It's like he's trying to make you think you're really a dummy for trusting his book. That in and of itself gives you a glimpse into how "they" work.

Posted by: annette on August 18, 2005 9:56 AM

Bryan Caplan is attacking (albeit jestingly) a straw man -- that's what his version of Homo Oeconomicus really is. What self-serious critics of modern economics pretend to not realize is that the standard consumer choice framework enables you to account for remorse, altruism, addiction, etc. The question is where, when and how much they are relevant to economic behavior. For instance, strictly egotistic individuals (which homines oeconomici are often taken to be) would normally prefer to die in debt -- thus, intergenerational models have to account for altruism, and they successfully do so by treating children as consumption or investment goods. You don't really have to invent new frameworks when you can fit so much into the old ones.

Posted by: Alexei on August 19, 2005 3:18 AM

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