ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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‘Mathiness’ and the Production Function

Critiques of Macroeconomics

Paul Romer’s critique of modern growth theory, though important, errs in holding Joan Robinson as an early proponent of flawed methodological practices which he believes affects economics even today. This note argues that Robinson’s work on aggregate production functions highlights much of the problems that Romer calls attention to in the present. In neglecting her contributions, the discipline of economics has emerged poorer.

An earlier version of this article was printed inadvertently. This is the revised version of the article that incorporates substantial changes that were left out of the earlier version. The error is regretted. — Ed.

The author acknowledges an anonymous reviewer for comments.

Kenneth Boulding is reported to have said, “Mathematics brought rigor (sic) to economics. Unfortunately it also brought mortis” (Rodrik 2015). The criticism of the heavy reliance on formal rigour in economics has long been advanced by several other disciplines, and even by practitioners within, especially in the wake of the global crisis.1

One such critic is Paul Romer, whose comments on the inappropriate use of mathematics—or “mathiness”—sparked a lively debate online. Romer (2015a, 2015b) held that growth models that sought to explain endogenous technological innovation while adhering to the perfect competition notion of markets had no real link between the mathematics and the reality that the model sought to explain. Mathiness, according to him, obscures more than it clarifies, and is indicative of the authors’ adherence to a particular academic predisposition—namely, the adoption of models characterised by price-taking perfectly competitive firms—rather than simply representing faulty modelling techniques.

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Updated On : 1st Nov, 2017
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