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Unobservability, tractability and the battle of assumptions


  • Frank Hindriks


Economic models often include unrealistic assumptions. This does not mean, however, that economists lack a concern for the truth of their assumptions. Unrealistic assumptions are frequently imposed because the effects are taken to be negligible or because the problem at hand is intractable without them. Using the Musgrave-Maki typology as the point of departure, these claims are defended with respect to theories proposed by Solow, Hall and Roeger concerning productivity growth and the mark-up. Since they are unobservable, their values need to be inferred from the values of observable variables. Assumptions such as perfect competition and constant returns to scale are used for making this inference or measurement problem tractable. Other assumptions are justified in terms of negligibility. These findings support the fecundity of the (amended) Musgrave-Maki typology of assumptions - including the notion of a tractability assumption proposed here. Finding ways of relaxing tractability assumptions turns out to be an important source of progress in economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Frank Hindriks, 2005. "Unobservability, tractability and the battle of assumptions," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 383-406.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jecmet:v:12:y:2005:i:3:p:383-406 DOI: 10.1080/13501780500223619

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. JesĂș s P. Zamora Bonilla, 1999. "Verisimilitude and the scientific strategy of economic theory," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(3), pages 331-350.
    2. Hulten, Charles R., 1986. "Productivity change, capacity utilization, and the sources of efficiency growth," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 33(1-2), pages 31-50.
    3. Takayama,Akira, 1985. "Mathematical Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521314985, March.
    4. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 921-947, October.
    5. Thomas Mayer, "undated". "The Domain Of Theories And Tests By The Realism Of Assumptions," Department of Economics 98-11, California Davis - Department of Economics.
    6. Thomas Mayer, 1999. "The domain of hypotheses and the realism of assumptions," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 6(3), pages 319-330.
    7. D. J. Robertson, 1966. "Introduction," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 13(1), pages 1-4, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Philip R. P. Coelho & James E. McClure, 2007. "The Market for Lemmas," Working Papers 200702, Ball State University, Department of Economics, revised Apr 2007.
    2. Philip R. P. Coelho & James E. McClure, 2008. "The Market for Lemmas: Evidence That Complex Models Rarely Operate in Our World," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 5(1), pages 78-90, January.
    3. Rezitis, Anthony N., 2010. "Evaluating the state of competition of the Greek banking industry," Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 68-90, February.


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