Business Day

Not a new messiness


SIR — John Kay cites Paul Romer’s coinage of “mathiness” and rightly laments scientific veneer on ideologica­l axioms (“Economists should keep to the facts, not feelings”, October 8). I don’t wish to detract from the central point made, but I am surprised at what was omitted, given the subject matter.

Mr Romer’s cool new term may reflect the modern zeitgeist, but the underlying phenomenon is much older, and it has not escaped criticism. As far back as 1974, a Nobel Memorial Prize laureate delivered his acceptance speech. In fairly uncomplime­ntary terms (“we have made a mess of things”), it dealt with the economics profession’s unhealthy deployment of mathematic­al precision on the intractabl­y unquantifi­able, and the disastrous results of the policies it so confidentl­y informed. He used a different term (“scientisti­c” as distinct from “scientific”), but the subject was mathiness just the same. That speaker was Friedrich Hayek, and the speech, “The Pretence of Knowledge”, is as cogent and relevant to today’s world as it was then. It is freely available online. David Chaplin Fish Hoek

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