« Shia & Sunni | Gene Expression Front Page | Wodabout the Wodaabe? »
April 02, 2004

Checkers or Chess?

Most people would say that physics is a lot harder subject than economics, just as chess is a more difficult game than checkers. Higher I.Q. types tend to prefer the former.

Yet I read somewhere (I have no idea if it's true) that there are only two or three world-class checkers players in the world, versus a much larger number of world-class chess players.

The same thing seems to be true of economics. In the last century there were

maybe only a couple of economists whose reputations are likely to survive very far into the 21st century (Keynes's and Friedman's) while the number of world-class physicists is closer to twenty: Einstein, Plank, Bohr, Heisenberg, Shroedinger, Dirac, Pauli, etc?

Many educated people are comfortable having an opinion about economics (or making the first move in checkers) but comparatively few feel the same way about physics (or chess).

Isn't this a paradox, especially when you consider that the happiness of millions, even billions, of human beings depends on our getting it right as concerns certain fundamental economic questions -- on which there is often little agreement (or when there is agreement, it can turn out to be wrong)? I mean, it's not like there isn't plenty of incentive to master the game.

Are we to conclude, therefore, that economics is in reality a lot harder than physics? And if so, is economics really a science in the same sense as physics? A moral science, perhaps (using moral to refer to questions of how to maximize material human welfare)? Or a moral art?

From Adam Smith's day on, the conclusions of economics have always rested on the careful use of logic and reason, so maybe it's a kind of moral mathematics? If so, it doesn't appear to be one the human mind is as well adapted to handling as the mathematics of physics.

I don't claim to have answers to these questions, but I think they are fascinating.

Posted by lukelea at 04:38 PM