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Why is economics a social science and not a natural science?


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November 15, 2009 11:20PM

Science is a process of formulating models that predict outcomes in a natural system under certain conditions, and then testing them to see if the future predictions agree. However, the goal is to find how the model is inadequately representing the natural system. When the model is refuted, it is adjusted to form a new model from what is learned about the system. Since there is an underlying system that is being approximated by the models, there is an "objective reality" (exists independently of human conceptualization) to be described by conceptual models. The models evolve representations of the relationships and features that are defined by the system. Models are useful to humans. Models are respected when they better reflect the nature of the system.

On the other hand economics is an artifact of human imagination, and the agreement among certain humans who "play the games" together -- thereby it is a social technology. There is no underlying physical reality other than what is identified by the players to be components. Granted, the interactions within the system may be complex, and the economic properties are determined by what people study. Nevertheless, in the economics properties are determined by and limited only by the beliefs of the "players." To build economic models one must assume certain features, and the models become part of the generation of the results. Since they are not inherently tied to the physical and biological realities, they may fail arbitrarily as the physical and biological world view of humans change -- or as people believe the physical and biological world exists. Economics in large part reflects human belief systems. When physical and biological constraints become seriously constrained for humans, economics becomes irrelevant. The game ends.

Dick Richardson (1/28/2001)