"One of the embarrassing dirty little secrets of economics is that there is no such thing as economic theory properly so-called. There is simply no set of foundational bedrock principles on which one can base calculations that illuminate situations in the real world." -- Brad DeLong
My title does not refer to an approach in continental philosophy associated with Husserl and Heidegger. Rather, I refer to a term used in physics and engineering by practitioners who know they are not trying to develop models derived from fundamental laws, but only modeling the phenomena.
I find it of interest that Brad DeLong has recently described economics as phenomenology. A noted "rocket scientist" on Wall Street came to the same conclusion:
"The techniques of physics hardly ever produce more than the most approximate truth in finance because 'true' financial value is itself a suspect notion. In physics, a model is right when it correctly predicts the future trajectories of planets or the existence and properties of new particles, such as Gell-Mann's Omega Minus. In finance, you cannot easily prove a model right by such observation. Data are scarce and, more importantly, markets are arenas of action and reaction, dialectics of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. People learn from past mistakes and go on to make new ones. What's right in one regime is wrong in the next.I think one can read intimations of Soros' reflexitivity or Joan Robinson's historical time in the above quote. Derman is even more direct about a Post Keynesian concept elsewhere:
As a result, physicists turned quants don't expect too much from their theories, though many economists naively do. Perhaps this is because physicists, raised on theories capable of superb divination, know the difference between a fundamental theory and a phenomenological toy, useful though the latter may be. Trained economists have never seen a really first-class model. It's not that physics is 'better', but rather that finance is harder. In physics you're playing against God, and He doesn't change his laws very often. When you've checkmated Him, He'll concede. In finance, you're playing against God's creatures, agents who value assets based on their ephemeral opinions. They don't know when they've lost, so they keep trying." -- Emanuel Derman (2004) My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance, John Wiley & Sons.
"Slowly it began to dawn on me that what we faced was not so much risk as uncertainty. Risk is what you bear when you own, for example, 100 shares of Microsoft - you know exactly what those shares are worth because you can sell them in a second at something very close to the last traded price. There is no uncertainty about their current value, only the risk that their value will change in the next instant. But when you own an exotic illiquid option, uncertainty precedes its risk - you don't even know exactly what the option is currently worth because you don't know whether the model you are using is right or wrong. Or, more accurately, you know that the model you are using is both naive and wrong - the only question is how naive and how wrong." -- Emanuel Derman (2004)