People are always surprised by the amount of math used in teaching economics in graduate school, and some think it is used too much. In an interview with Milton Friedman I published several years ago, he said “I go back to what Alfred Marshall said about economics: Translate your results into English and then burn the mathematics. I think there’s too much emphasis on mathematics as such and not on mathematics as a tool in understanding economic relationships.” While I agree about the need to explain the mathematical results in simple terms, I do not agree about burning the math once translated. Mathematical methods are now used in practice in economics and finance in both the public and private sector, from auctioning the spectrum to matching medical students and residence programs. People need to have an intuitive understanding of the methods, but you also need the math (and the computer programs) to make them work.I would say that Marshall, who was trained as a mathematician, is basically right about the maths, you should burn it in as many cases as you can. However there are some situations where you can't and thus you have to live with it. I would also say that Friedman is right when he says "I think there’s too much emphasis on mathematics as such and not on mathematics as a tool in understanding economic relationships." Maths should be the handmaiden to the economics and not the other way round.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Math in econ
At his blog Economics One John Taylor writes, with respect to the use of maths in economics,