You think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. I really like this post where Krugman argues:
In my field there is indeed a problem with abstruseness, with the many academics who never even try to put their thoughts in plain language.
And what is the nature of that problem? It’s not that laypeople don’t understand what the academics are saying. It is, instead, that the academics themselves don’t understand what they’re saying.
Don’t get me wrong: I like mathematical modeling. Mathematical modeling is a friend of mine. Math can be a powerful clarifying tool. So, in some cases, can jargon…
But it’s really important to step away from the math and drop the jargon every once in a while, and not just as a public service. Trying to explain what you’re doing intuitively isn’t just for the proles; it’s an important way to check on yourself, to be sure that your story is at least halfway plausible.
Obviously, some Austrian purists may quibble with me and say that they don’t like anybody giving any quarter at all to mathematical economics. But I’m trying to give credit to Krugman when it’s deserved, to show I am a fair guy.
I also like his specific illustration:
Take real business cycle theory – I know it’s a horse I beat a lot, but it’s not dead, and it’s a prime example within economics of what I have in mind. I still want to spend at least some time explaining that theory to my undergrads, so I’ve been looking for a simple, intuitive explanation by an RBC theorist of what’s going on. And I haven’t been able to find one!
I mean, I could do it myself. Strip the story down to basics…As I’ve written before someplace, it’s the story of a farmer who stays inside when it’s raining and puts in extra hours when the sun is shining.
But the RBC theorists never seem to go there; it’s right into calibration and statistical moments, with never a break for intuition.
Yep. That’s what happened to me in grad school (though in fairness, I don’t think any of my professors actually believed RBC). I distinctly remember sitting in the study room off the computer lab, going over a problem set where our job was to look at the “impulse response function” from a productivity “shock.” I put down the pencil and asked the other people at the table, “Does anybody know what the heck this actually means?”
No one said anything at first, and then the guy from Catalonia said, “No I just like playing with GAUSS” (which was the name of the econometrics software).