Economics vs Weather

Imagine if you will, you’re planning an ocean cruise, and you want to know whether you might face rough seas. Will you hire a weather scientist or an economist?

The answer’s obvious, but the reasons are illuminating.

The weather scientists will measure temperature patterns, air pressure patterns and how they’re spinning, ocean currents and how they’re swelling, motion of the sun and moon and how they’re moving tides, and a whole lot more. They’ll fire up their big computers to calculate the chaotic patterns that arise — plus how cyclones and anti-cyclones interact with each other to strengthen or neutralize each other, and a whole more.

They’ll come up with a model of the weather that will be pretty inaccurate, but a good enough call to enable you to dodge a hurricane, maybe.

Now what will you get if you hire people trained in economics? They’ll pull up the same factors — temperature, wind, cyclone patterns, ocean currents, tides, etc. — but they’ll do completely different different things with them.

Economists are wedded to equilibrium. Their ideal goal is called general equilibrium — where supply and demand are perfectly balanced in all the markets all over the world — so that everyone is fully satisfied and no further change is necessary — ever again. Perfection.

So the economists will pull out their computers. They’ll construct a scenario where all the forces — all the temperature gradients, all the wind pressures, all the ocean currents, all the tidal flows — they’ll all counteract each other in a perfect balance — and make the entire ocean perfectly flat from coast to coast. An exquisite equilibrium — champagne all around.

It won’t be easy? The first mathematical models won’t work. The math is too unstable. So they’ll have to make some simplifying assumptions. Assume the earth is flat. Nope, still doesn’t work? Assume all weather trends are simple like straight lines. Nope, still not enough

Assume the moon and sun are stationary in the sky. Nope, but getting closer. Assume every cyclone is totally unaffected by any nearby anti-cyclones. Yah, it works! Our hypothetical ocean is perfectly flat. Equilibrium always wins in the end. I kid you not.

So if you hire economists, what’ll you get? They won’t have a clue about actual weather prediction, so they’ll make wild guesses. And they’ll be wrong.

Am I being unfair to economists? I’m describing the neoclassical equilibrium school of economics — which dominates the field entirely.

But there are other schools of thought. There are economists who use complexity models of mathematics, much like weathermen, with better results. There’s an evolutionary school that models how individuals and groups respond to each other adaptively. There’s behavioral economics, modeling nonlinear human behaviour.

But they’re all on the outside looking in. If you hear that some presidents are economists, they’ll be neoclassical. If you look at who runs all the powerful economic institutions and policy regimes around the world — yup, all neoclassical.

They rule the world. They gotta be debunked.


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