Why political science can’t — and shouldn’t — be too much like economics


Daniel W. Drezner in The Washington Post:

In Tuesday’s post, I argued that it was quite possible for political scientists to be both rigorous and relevant. But I closed by observing that economists generally don’t worry about the whole rigor vs. relevance debate. Their scholarly papers are impermeable black masses to lay readers, and yet policymakers and politicians defer to their expertise on a regular basis. Political scientists — particularly international relations scholars — look at that and think, “Why can’t we get us some of that?”

The response by much of political science to this state of affairs has been to try to mimic economic methodology as much as humanly possible. Now the more sophisticated modelling and statistical techniques might have some intrinsic value to studying political phenomena. But I think the belief that aping economists will lead political scientists to be treated with more respect fundamentally misinterprets why economists get more respect.

It’s worth stepping back here for a second to point out that what is particularly impressive about the prominence of economists in the marketplace of ideas is just how badly the profession has screwed up the past decade. With some important exceptions, few economists accurately warned about the severe dangers of the housing bubble before the 2008 financial crisis. Indeed, as John Quiggin and others have noted, ideas like the efficient markets hypothesis helped to spur the conditions that created the bubble in the first place.

Nor have economists shined during the post-2008 era. Forecasters of all stripes have failed badly. The Federal Reserve has persistently overestimated projected economic growth since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Since the start of the Great Recession, the International Monetary Fund’s economic forecasters have had to continually revise downward their short-term projections for global economic growth. The failure rate has been so bad that the IMF has started to devote research to why so many revisions have been necessary.

More here.