Economics and Sociology

I spoke yesterday in a plenary session at The Australian Sociological Association’s annual conference at ANU. The session was on ‘Economics and Sociology’, and I shared the stage with RSSS Director David Marsh and TASA President Michael Gilding (who I know because of the fascinating work he has done on wealth holdings). There were of course the usual anti-economics jokes (economics is about how people make choices, sociology is about how people have no choices), and anti-sociology jokes (economists are told that if they’re good, they’ll be reincarnated as physicists, and if they’re bad, they’ll be reincarnated as sociologists).

I spoke about how I see the two disciplines, what I’ve learned from sociology in my own research, and what the two disciplines might learn from one another. In case it’s of interest, here are my slides. The Q&A session was terrific fun, though it made me realise that I’ve forgotten almost everything I ever knew about Marxist economics. I’m also not sure everyone was convinced when I argued that Stevenson and Wolfers had shown that the Easterlin Paradox didn’t exist, and that economic growth was on balance pretty good for wellbeing.

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5 Responses to Economics and Sociology

  1. Don says:

    I especially liked this ‘lesson from sociology’:

    “Theory and empirics should be tightly integrated, so that empirical work tests clearly defined theories, and theorists respond to empirical findings.”

    I think program evaluation would be more useful if it used this approach. Evaluators should try to uncover and test the theories implicit in program design. This is an approach Carol Weiss and others advocate.

    What’s the use of a time consuming, expensive randomised control trial if you’ve got no idea about why the program succeeded or failed? Without a theory, how can you judge whether or not it will work in a different place, at a different time, or with a different target group?

  2. Harry says:

    I liked this lesson more: “Conversations with real people can be informative” – who’d’ve thunk it?!

  3. Cathal Kelly says:

    The model of false CVs has recently been used in Ireland and the study had to be stopped early because the findings were so strong that it would have been unethical to continue to waste employers’ time with false job applicants. Research report here:

    • Andrew Leigh says:

      Are you sure that’s the reason they stopped? The report states “We only stopped when we were satisfied that the likelihood that our results were due to chance was so small as to be negligible.”

  4. Sukrit says:

    The mathematization of economics deliberately serves to distance the general public (and commonsense) from the debate. This has two positive effects for the profession. First, it restricts scrutiny of policy to the small minority who speak the language. Second, it is a pretext for economists demanding extremely good salaries. Nonsense, if unintelligible, seems well tolerated by the average person.

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