On November 26th 2021 I presented a paper called 'The Refound Art of Economics' at the virtual SPERI/PSA workshop on 'Rethinking Economic Policy: Crisis, Change and Continuity in the UK and Beyond'. The workshop was organised by Scott James of King's College London.
Abstract: The world of economic theory is always much more contested at the time than it can be made to seem in retrospect. It is never the case that economists speak with one voice, however convenient it is to think about economics in the singular. Despite this, there nonetheless appears to be an interesting difference between the global financial crisis and the Covid crisis in how the public face of economics has been presented. This is not merely that the retreat into orthodoxy which followed the global financial crisis seems to have been replaced by a conscious desire to rip up balanced budget rules and a willingness of economists to be seen endorsing any number of novel macroeconomic policies. More importantly, we have witnessed a shift in the type of economics that has been most prominent publicly. It was abstract theoretical macroeconomics during the global financial crisis, as relationships that belong solely in the model world were used as a guide for those in the real world. However, it has been applied empirical economics during the Covid crisis, where the unprecedented nature of events has released the discussion from a need to use how relationships work on the blackboard for how they should operate in practice. This difference can be theorised using John Neville Keynes’s important methodological distinction between the science and the art of economics. In recent years it has become conventional to lament the lost art of economics, but economists’ public reputation seems to have been rehabilitated during the pandemic by the additional prominence enjoyed by applied empirical research. The art of economics appears to have been at least temporarily re-found, but how long this situation lasts remains to be seen.