Sep 10

Economists vs historians (aka Harford vs Rachman)

Yet more weekend reading on a unexpected subject. There’s a glorious and entirely civilised duel running on ft.com between columnist and blogger Gideon Rachman and his colleague the Undercover Economist, Tim Harford. They are arguing the relative merits of economists and historians.

Rachman begins by demolishing economists here. Harford replies here, with a brief rejoinder from Rachman. They stray into physicists and architects and Harford includes a lovely little anecdote about a stadium that fell down just after hosting an architects’ convention.

The context of this illuminating exchange of course is the anxious examination of their own role that economists began after the financial crash two years ago. Having done a history degree, my sympathies lean towards Rachman. Harford would make a stronger argument if he conceded that he was defending economists with intellectual humility and who display a sense of the limits of their craft. That’s a sub-group of economists in general.

There’s a lot of excellent (and accessible) good sense on this subject from another FT contributor, John Kay, in his new small book Obliquity.