What’s wrong with being a social scientist?

A great quote from John Maynard Keynes I happened across today:

The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts…He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher – in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.

I think our attempts to turn economics into a reductionist hard science have greatly hurt economics as a field, and the dominance of economics within the social sciences has led those attempts to unleash ideas on the world which have been, at times, devastating. As social scientists, we must first and foremost place all our ideas and theories in a real, tangible context, and that requires a massive breadth and depth of study. And since Keynes, with advances in evolutionary science, complexity theory and computational modeling techniques, our field of study should be broader than ever. We should wear our social science label with pride and, in a sense, try to learn a bit of everything. And, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no task more rewarding and fun out there.


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