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The Secret Sins of Economics (Paradigm) [Paperback]

Deirdre N Mccloskey
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

20 Dec 2002 Paradigm
Deidre N. McCloskey's work in economics calls into question its reputation as "the dismal science". She writes with passion and an unusually wide scope, drawing on literature and intellectual history in exciting, if unorthodox, ways. In this pamphlet, McCloskey reveals what she sees as the secret sins of economics that no one will discuss - two sins that "cripple" economics as a "scientific enterprise".

Product details

  • Paperback: 50 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (20 Dec 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971757534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971757530
  • Product Dimensions: 17.9 x 11.5 x 0.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,980,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Deirdre N. McCloskey is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History and English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Tinbergen Professor of Economics, Philosophy, Art and Cultural Studies at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

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What's sinful about economics is not what the average anthropologist or historian or journalist thinks. Read the first page
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Dismal Science"? 29 Dec 2006
I read this "pamphlet" (?) about two years ago, and I enjoyed it. I was expecting one of those articles written by philosophers in order to achieve their marks/research points. However I found and interesting and readable essay that clearly explains that economics can go further and further as a science. I ended the book feeling proud of being an economist, but guilty of being a secret sinner.

Finally, I would recommend "Freakonomics".
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Cargo Cult 22 Sep 2011
By Theoni Lussos - Published on Amazon.com
McCloskey's style is very tongue in cheek. It actually reminds me of Jonathan Swift, using absurd metaphors to attack those who want to dumb down economics and remove the maths and make a quantiative science like Physics and Psychology a qualitative humanity like English or Philosophy. She does make some great analogies to make her point: without math it's impossible to compare Cuba prior and post Castro, and without statistical significance counting cars on a sunny afternoon has no meaning other than wasting time. Highly enjoyable with a lot of erudite metaphors and implications. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks. /TKL
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Cassandra of Economics" and the statistical Trojan horse 14 May 2004
By Omer Belsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Are Economists sinners? And if they are, what are their sins? In this tiny booklet (at 58 pages of text, this must be one of the worst ratios of words per cents available on Amazon), Dierdre McCloskey argues that they are, but that their sins are not what most humanistic critiques think.
I've recently praised a Paul Krugman book as the best written book about economics I've read - I already rue my words, because it hasn't been three months yet, and Professor McCloskey, an artist of prose, surpasses him. Even if you disagree with everything McCloskey says, reading this book is a delight. When satirizing quantification in economics (which she approves, by the way):
"And the economists, oh, the economists, how they counted, and still count. Take any copy of The American Economic Review (Surely you subscribe?) and open it at random. To perhaps Joel Waldfogel, "The Deadweight Loss of Christmas" (No Kidding: December 1993; Waldfogel is arguing that since a gift is not chosen by the recipient it is not worth what the giver spent, which leads o a loss compared with merely sending cash. Who could not love such a science of Prudence?)" (p.6)
You could be mistaken into thinking that McCloskey is against quantification, statistics or mathematics, but she merely cannot resist some highly amusing cheap shots. McCloskey is in favor of Quantification, use of mathematic models, and of the libertarian bias of economists (not very convincingly in the case of the latter, in my opinion).
There are some other, minor sins which are not really the target of McCloskey, but to which she devotes a great deal of her time. So by the time we get to "The Two Real Sins, Almost Peculiar to Economics" it is already page 37. Time's almost up, and the sins are two:
First, McCloskey believes that the theorizing economists do in their theoretical work is really no theorizing - the theories include no place for quantifications, and so remain abstract "If A then B" may be entirely consist in and of itself - but it may be entirely wrong, if A is not true. If the theories are not open to quantification, they can hardly be falsified, nor can we estimate whether their effect is considerable or marginal.
The other sin of economics is the alleged reliance of economists on "statistical significance". A high statistical significance assures us that the result we get is not noise at say 5%, 1% or 0.1% levels, meaning that there's only 1-in-twenty, 1-in-a-hundred, or 1-in-a-thousand chance that the result one gets is accidental. McCloskey's point is that even if a theory fails the 5% level, for example, it does not mean that the theory isn't true (it just means that you're not 95% sure it is true). That point goes the other way around, too - if you measure enough things, you're going to find some which will seem to be correlated even though they clearly aren't - "For a long time in Britain the number of ham radio operator licenses granted annually was very highly correlated with the number of people certified insane. Very funny. So?" (p. 53).
I admit that I lack familiarity with current economic research to comment on how close McCloskey's criticism hits the mark. In the last page of "The Secret Sins of Economics" Deirdre McCloskey compares herself to Cassandra, the prophetess from Troy, whose advice was ignored by the Trojans as they brought the famous horse into their city. Amusing, yet economics is a science, not a grand retelling of an old myth, and McCloskey is not cursed by Apollo. At least some of the guilty, 'Samuelsonian' economists must have responded to McCloskey's critiques, but if you want to hear those answers, you will have to look elsewhere.
19 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly a must read. 23 Sep 2002
By David Creelman - Published on Amazon.com
Short, funny, earth shattering. Most thinking people know in their hearts there is something seriously wrong with economics. Dr. McClosky shows what is wrong clearly and with rigor.
In particular any one with a science background will delight in her demolition of the bad science that characterizes so much of economics.
This is one of the best pieces I've read on any topic in the past decade.
7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars McCloskey ignores the main problem-Assuming a N(0,I) 22 Jun 2005
By Michael Emmett Brady - Published on Amazon.com
McCloskey has correctly identified a significant problem in the econometric practice of the last 70 years.That problem is the misuse and misinterpretation of the meaning and relevance of statistical significance levels and the corresponding failure to discuss and/or identify the economic significance of a hypothesis.However,McCloskey has been making this same point in numerous publications for 25-30 years.Unfortunately,she ignores the much,much greater problem -econometricians simply assume the applicability of a normal probability distribution to whatever data set they are analysing without first applying a chi-square goodness of fit test.Both J M Keynes(see his exchange with Jan Tinbergen in the 1939-40 issues of the Economic Journal based on his analysis contained in chapters 17,29-32 of the 1921 A Treatise on Probability) and B Mandelbrot(his work in this area starts in 1955;see his 2004 The (Mis)Behavior of Markets)have demonstrated theoretically and empirically that the assumption of normality is a gross error.There is not a word about this problem anywhere in this book or in any article or book written by McCloskey in her lifetime.Finally,her attempt to blame Paul Samuelson for the failure of economic theorising and the statistical significance fiasco is not convincing at all.Samuelson has made two mistakes in his lifetime.The first error was to accept the false Macbethian claims of Joan Robinson and Richard Kahn that they were Keynes's secret collaborators.This prevented Samuelson from generalizing his correct Principles Keynesian model of the GT (constant returns to labor)to Keynes's main chapter 20 model of decreasing returns to labor.His second mistake was to make an "as if" assumption about the ergodic hypothesis as applied to economics.McCloskey's claims that Samuelson is responsible for the twin sins of qualitative economic theorising and the misuse of the concept of statistical significance in econometric practice is not substantiated.
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