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The Unbearable Lightness of the Economics-Made-Fun Genre

  • Peter Spiegler

Several commentators have argued that the Economics-Made-Fun (“EMF”) genre contains very little actual economics. As such, it would seem that criticisms of EMF do not apply economics more broadly. In this paper I take a contrary view, arguing that, in fact, at a deep conceptual level, the engine of EMF analyses is precisely the engine of mainstream economics. Specifically, I argue that both EMF and mainstream economics rest on a conceptual foundation known as the Principal of the Substitution of Similars (“PSS”). Understanding how PSS leads EMF practitioners to make claims well beyond what is warranted by their analysis also offers insight into how PSS leaves mainstream economists in danger of overestimating the power and scope of their analyses. I explore the consequences of such problems through an example of economic analysis of the U.S. housing market in the lead-up to the recent financial crisis.

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Paper provided by University of Massachusetts Boston, Economics Department in its series Working Papers with number 12.

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Length: 29 Pages
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Handle: RePEc:mab:wpaper:12
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  1. Mark Duggan & Steven D. Levitt, 2000. "Winning Isn't Everything: Corruption in Sumo Wrestling," NBER Working Papers 7798, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Brian A. Jacob & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "Rotten Apples: An Investigation of the Prevalence and Predictors of Teacher Cheating," NBER Working Papers 9413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Donald MacKenzie, 2008. "An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262633671, June.
  4. Maas,Harro, 2005. "William Stanley Jevons and the Making of Modern Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521827126.
  5. Karl E. Case & Robert J. Shiller, 2003. "Is There a Bubble in the Housing Market?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(2), pages 299-362.
  6. Aaron Steelman, 2005. "Book review : The relentless pursuit of incentives. "Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything" by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner," Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Sum, pages 46-47.
  7. Brian A. Jacob & Steven D. Levitt, 2003. "Rotten Apples: An Investigation of the Prevalence and Predictors of Teacher Cheating," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(3), pages 843-877.
  8. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:118:y:2003:i:3:p:843-877 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. John DiNardo, 2007. "Interesting Questions in Freakonomics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(4), pages 973-1000, December.
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