Comment by bill_greene on Underconstrained Abstractions · 2008-12-06T23:56:07.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

". . . economics does not seem to me to deal much in the origins of novel knowledge and novel designs, and said, "If I underestimate your power and merely parody your field, by all means inform me what kind of economic study has been done of such things."

A popular professor at Harvard Business School told me that economists are like accountants--they go out on the field of battle, examine the dead and maimed, tabulate the fallen weapons, study the prints on the ground, and try and figure out what happened. Real people, the actors who fought the battle, are rarely consulted. However, the economists and accountants try to summarize what happened in the past. They often do that with some degree of accuracy. However, experience has taught us that asking them what will happen in the future begets less accuracy than found in weather forecasts. And yet the economists have constructed extensive abstract theories that presume to predict outcomes.

I don't believe that applying more brain power or faster calculations will ever improve on this predictive ability. Such super-computations could only work in a controlled environment. But, a controlled environment eliminates the genius, imagination, persistence, and irrational exuberance of individual initiative. The latter is unpredicatable, spontaneous, opportunistic. All attempts to improve on that type of common and diversified genius by central direction from on high has failed.

"Ideas" are great in the hard sciences, but as Feynman observed, almost every idea you can come up with will prove wrong. Super computational skills should alleviate the problem of sorting through the millions of possible ideas in the physical sciences to look for the good ones. But when dealing with human action, it is best to look, not at the latest idea, or concept, but at the "principles" we can see from the past 4,000 years of human societal activity. Almost every conceivable mechanism has been tested and those that worked are "near" and at hand. That record reveals the tried and true lessons of history. In dealing with the variables of human motivation and governance, those principles provide a sounder blueprint for the future than any supercomputer could compute.