Progress in Economics

In this chapter, we discuss a specific kind of progress that occurs in most branches of economics today: progress involving the repeated use of mathematical models. We adopt a functional account of progress to argue that progress in economics occurs through the use of what we call “common recipes” and model templates for defining and solving problems of relevance for economists. We support our argument by discussing the case of 20th century business cycle research. By presenting this case study in detail, we show how model templates are not only reapplied to different phenomena. We also show how scientists first develop them and how, once they are considered less useful, they are replaced with new ones. Finally, our case also illustrates that it is not only the mathematical structure that is reused but that such reuse also requires a shared conceptual vision of the core properties of the phenomenon to be studied. If that vision is no longer shared among economists, a model template can become useless and has to be replaced, sometimes against resistance, with a different one.

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