Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The fox and the hedgehog

A little knowledge can be dangerous. But if you are trying to get an education in economics with minimum time commitment, you could do much worse than reading Tyler Cowen's blog Marginal Revolution and Robin Hanson's blog Overcoming Bias. If you have more time on your hands, you might consider enrolling in the exceptional economics department at George Mason University, where they teach.

Tyler and Robin have almost diametrically opposed perspectives on how one can make sense of the world. And yet, like many opposites, they have huge respect for each other.

Here is an excerpt from a recent post by Tyler:
Robin is very fond of powerful theories which invoke a very small number of basic elements and give those elements great force. He likes to focus on one very central mechanism in seeking an explanation or developing policy advice. Modern physics and Darwin hold too strong a sway in his underlying mental models. He is also very fond of hypotheses involving the idea of a great transformation sometime in the future, and these transformations are often driven by the mechanism he has in mind. I tend to see good social science explanations or proposals as intrinsically messy and complex and involving many different perspectives, not all of which can be reduced to a single common framework. I know that many of my claims sound vague to Robin's logical atomism, but I believe that, given our current state of knowledge, Robin is seeking a false precision and he is sometimes missing out on an important multiplicity of perspectives. Many of his views should be more cautious.
The full post is here.