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Ciencia, Economía Mundial

Can Science Help Solve the Economic Crisis?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Douglas Rushkoff, Larry Sanger, Mike Brown, George Dyson, Emanuel Derman, Michael Shermer, Paul Romer, Tor Nørretranders

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: I urge all you scientists to go take your “science” where it may work—and leave us in the real world without more problems. Please, please, enough of this “science”. We have enough problems without you. …

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: The greatest danger of this compromised and arbitrary “scientific-style” approach to economics is that it implies an equivalence of the economy with nature. The sense is that the economy is really an ecology in which the laws of physics and nature actually apply. Sure they apply, but only as much as they apply to any utterly synthetic and manufactured environment. …

MIKE BROWN: I think the main thing science has to offer in this crisis right now is a little dose of its traditional empirical humility, and when things have gotten pretty screwed up, that is usually a good place to start, if only just for good form. It would also, of course, be wise to remain skeptically mindful of where science may have contributed to the mess. …

LARY SANGER: Any scientific project to take on economics and boldly transform it into a hard science will run into that problem of a complexity that is not amenable to rigorous scientific model-building. The other trouble with an “economic Manhattan project” suggestion is the fact that work in the social sciences is inherently ideological. I suppose that the title of the article’s section 4, “What is to be done?” was chosen ironically—being the title of Lenin’s most famous tract and all. …

GOERGE DYSON: “Ten years ago I started a company based on the assumption that people are basically good,” argued E-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar (at the Santa Fe Institute) in 2004. “And now I have the data to prove it.” Instead of putting a dozen scientists in a room to come up with a better model of the existing global financial system, we should put a dozen Pierre Omidyars, Elon Musks, Salar Kamangars, and Jeff Bezoses in a room (with Danny Hillis) and let them actually build one (a new financial system, not another model). …

EMANUEL DERMAN: This is a noble proposal, but I remain a bit of a skeptic with respect to the ability of a cohort of scientists and economists to find a scientific solution to the problems of our economy. Economies are living organisms, about as old as the oldest profession, and rebuilding the economic system from scratch is a problem in engineering and social engineering, not in science. Human’s and scientists don’t have a good history as regards social engineering. …

MICHAEL SHERMER: Expand the problem by many orders of magnitude and we get a sense of the breathtaking inanity of trying to control an entire economy, no matter how smart the experts in our hypothetical economic Manhattan Project may be. The economy is a product of human action, not of human design. Trying to redesign something that was never designed in the first place is futile. I vote no on an economic Manhattan Project. …

PAUL ROMER: To be successful, a Capital Markets Safety Board (CMSB) would require both funding and careful attention to incentives. Like the NTSB, a CMSB should be truly independent from the government agencies that are responsible for crisis prevention and crisis management. It should also be protected from influence by firms in the financial sector. In its data collection efforts, it should not rely on university researchers who are themselves susceptible to influence by the interested government agencies or the private sector players. Nor should it use academics who have a personal or professional stake in any particular view about what caused a crisis. It’s the soft corruption of lobbying and regulatory capture that should worry us, not ideology. Institutionalized transparency is the best antidote. …

TOR NØRRETRANDERS: We now know from experimental economics, game theory and the anthropology of gift giving that this creature exists only in the mind of economists, not in the real world. Humans (and other primates) treat each other with empathy and a striving for fair play (often through the punishment of free riders). Therefore the laudable new discussion of models of the economic system fail to discuss the real issue: Our model of human beings. And it fails to discuss the crucial externality to the economic process: Sometimes we decide to do great things that will lift each and everyone up where we belong. …

ERIC WEINSTEIN: Some salvageable models have been kept on life support by adding epicycle after epicycle to deal with their obvious incompatibilities with markets and observed human behavior (e.g. the inexplicable neoclassical insistence on fixed preferences) while common risk measures like Value-at-Risk are probably flawed beyond hope. And yet, insights from fields as diverse as gauge theory, and evolutionary psychology may have a positive role to play in healing what ails the cartoonish homo economicus model to create a more realistic scientific theory of market agency. But the best way to do this is too subject the models to a marketplace of ideas somewhat more vigorous than modern day economics. …

BRIAN KNUTSON: What are some implications of these findings for the current crisis? Presently, we need to put a price on ambiguous derivatives (a job for the economists). As long as the value of these contracts remains unresolved, this could generate ultra-uncertainty, which will promote fear, which will keep money in peoples’ mattresses and out of the market. In the future, we should regulate (or incentivize) against contracts that resist pricing. …

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