Friday, February 04, 2011

Daron Acemoglu

What do you think of Daron Acemoglu?

Since he is a mainstream economist at MIT, I should be inclined to take a critical stance to be consistent with my themes. Acemoglu has written so many papers that I do not feel that I can have a comprehensive view. Maybe I should read up on the summary that must have accompanied his 2005 John Bates Clark medal.

Acemoglu writes on political economy and political science topics I think of interest - for example, power, coercion, social networks, innovation, governance, and economic development. The conclusions he and his colleagues reach are not necessarily a whitewash of capitalism. I've been trying to read, for example, Glenn Ellison and Alexander Wolitzky's paper, "A Search Cost Model of Obfuscation", in which more-or-less competitive firms deliberately put clauses hard to understand in contracts, thereby making it difficult to compare products and to obtain, for example, payouts on warranties, insurance, etc. Most of the papers I've read by Acemoglu and his colleages seem to tell just-so stories with game theory, a branch of mathematics I think can be fascinating. Empirical accounts can be used to illustrate the theories, but I wonder whether the theories are passing potentially falsifying tests. As an exemplar, I take Acemoglu, Egorov, and Sonin's accounts of incidents in the history of the Soviet Politburo in their 2008 Review of Economic Studies paper, "Coalition Formation in Non-Democracies".


Anonymous said...

I think your vision and criticism of mainstream economics is extremely ideological and methodological. With their own tools, orthodox economists have been doing for decades works that show a bunch of market failures.

Ian Wright said...

In reply to anonymous I must say I don't recognize your characterization of Robert's approach to mainstream economics. First, Robert's work tends to focus on critiquing the logical foundations of mainstream economic theory; he uses formal models so the issues can be clearly debated in a rational manner. Second, is it really reasonable to defend mainstream economics today in terms of work that shows "a bunch of market failures" given the well-known inability of mainstream models to either model or predict the recent Global Financial Crisis *by construction*? The problems with Walrasian mainstream models run very deep.


Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Wright, I'm sure Mr. Vienneau is totally honest when discussing the foundations of mainstream economics. However, I'm afraid he also tends to describe orthodox economists as being sychophants of Capital and other Marxian-style insults, although it's clear that they try hard to be politically neutral in their papers.

Ian Wright said...

I understand why you might think that language implies an "extremely ideological" stance, especially if you buy the claim that mainstream economics is "value neutral". But such value-judgements are legitimate and necessary elements of social science discourse precisely because the motives and attitudes of social actors are a matter of empirical fact and therefore potential objects of scientific enquiry.

For example, as social scientists we can investigate the question whether academic economics has been co-opted by class interests. We can look at the evidence. We may conclude that there is good evidence to believe that some mainstream economists act as "sychophants of Capital", i.e. have a recurring bias to promulgate economic theories that benefit vested interests. One can argue against that claim. But I think it's completely wrong-headed to suggest that such claims are inherently "ideological".

Of course, there's a long history of economic theories serving vested interests, not least the 19th Century debate on the Corn Laws in Britain.

I haven't yet seen the movie "Inside Job".


Anonymous said...

One can argue against that claim.

That's just what I'm doing. And as long as I don't find politization in the vast majority of mainstream works, I accuse Mr. Vienneau's criticism of being ideologic.

Ian Wright said...

No, you would say that Robert's claim was *false*.

Instead, you imply that Robert's claim is *ideological*, i.e. not motivated by the scientific method but by pre-existing political bias. You impugn his motives, which is at the very least impolite.

I think it's good practice to assume that everyone is applying the scientific method -- even when you disagree with the other person's conclusions.


Anonymous said...

I'm not just saying that Mr Vieneau's arguments are false - I'm also trying to explain why they are false. That's the scientific method, isn't it? I venture to say it might be due to ideologic reasons the same way you talk about ideology in the Corn Laws debate.

Robert Vienneau said...

I think anonymous is also being rude not to adopt a pseudonym, despite my request on my welcome message. I don't see that he has an argument at all.

Anyways, I guess anonymous has no opinion on Daron Acemoglu's work. So I won't learn from him whether I should be intrigued by that work.

Dan said...

You may find it interesting that Acemoglu's political economy work is based on class conflict.

Gintis has a good review of Acemoglu and Robinson's book on the subject.