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Lars Pålsson Syll

Lars Pålsson Syll

Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

Articles by Lars Pålsson Syll

The Law of Demand

2 days ago

The Law of Demand

Mainstream economics is usually considered to be very ‘rigorous’ and ‘precise.’ And yes, indeed, it’s certainly full of ‘rigorous’ and ‘precise’ statements like “the state of the economy will remain the same as long as it doesn’t change.” Although ‘true,’ this is, however — like most other analytical statements — neither particularly interesting nor informative.
As is well known, the law of demand is usually tagged with a clause that entails numerous interpretation problems: the ceteris paribus clause. In the strict sense this must thus at least be formulated as follows to be acceptable to the majority of theoreticians: ceteris paribus – that is, all things being equal – the demanded quantity of a consumer good is a monotone-decreasing

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Free trade

3 days ago

From Lars Syll
In 1817 David Ricardo presented — in Principles — a theory that was meant to explain why countries trade and, based on the concept of opportunity cost, how the pattern of export and import is ruled by countries exporting goods in which they have a comparative advantage and importing goods in which they have a comparative disadvantage.
Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, however, didn’t explain why the comparative advantage was the way it was. At the beginning of the 20th century, two Swedish economists — Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin — presented a theory/model/theorem according to which the comparative advantages arose from differences in factor endowments between countries. Countries have comparative advantages in producing goods that use up production factors

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Mainstream economics — the art of building fantasy worlds

5 days ago

Mainstream economics — the art of building fantasy worlds

Mainstream macroeconomic models standardly assume things like rational expectations, Walrasian market clearing, unique equilibria, time invariance, linear separability and homogeneity of both inputs/outputs and technology, infinitely lived intertemporally optimizing representative household/ consumer/producer agents with homothetic and identical preferences, etc., etc. At the same time, the models standardly ignore complexity, diversity, uncertainty, coordination problems, non-market clearing prices, real aggregation problems, emergence, expectations formation, etc., etc.
Behavioural and experimental economics — not to speak of psychology — show beyond doubt that “deep parameters” — peoples’

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Bayesian absurdities

5 days ago

In other words, if a decision-maker thinks something cannot be true and interprets this to mean it has zero probability, he will never be influenced by any data, which is surely absurd.
So leave a little probability for the moon being made of green cheese; it can be as small as 1 in a million, but have it there since otherwise an army of astronauts returning with samples of the said cheese will leave you unmoved.
To get the Bayesian probability calculus going you sometimes have to assume strange things — so strange that you should perhaps start wondering if maybe there is something wrong with your theory …
Added: For those interested in these questions concerning the reach and application of statistical theories, do read Sander Greenland’s insightful comment:
My take is

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Evidence-based economics — the fundamentals

6 days ago

Evidence-based economics — the fundamentals

Many economists still think that “evidence” is only of one kind, i.e. statistical/econometric analysis. Whilst this is important, it is not enough on its own. One reason for its privileged position may be that it is typically contrasted with “anecdotal evidence”, which is unreliable. But the truth is richer than that.
It is true that basing one’s thinking about the economy on one or more stories carries the danger that one will just favour the narrative that suits one’s preconceptions. Any item of evidence needs to be representative of the underlying reality in some way – in fact this is true also of statistical analyses. And subjective bias (wishful thinking) needs to be avoided, whatever the type of evidence.

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The geometry of Bayes theorem

8 days ago

The geometry of Bayes theorem

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An informative visualization of a theorem that shows how to update probabilities — calculating conditional probabilities — when new information/evidence becomes available.
But …
Although Bayes’ theorem is mathematically unquestionable, that doesn’t qualify it as indisputably applicable to scientific questions. Bayesian statistics is one thing, and Bayesian epistemology is something else. Science is not reducible to betting, and scientific inference is not a branch of probability theory. It always transcends mathematics. The unfulfilled dream of constructing an inductive logic of probabilism — the Bayesian Holy Grail — will always remain unfulfilled.
Bayesian probability calculus is far from the automatic

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Mindless statistics

8 days ago

Knowing the contents of a toolbox, of course, requires statistical thinking, that is, the art of choosing a proper tool for a given problem. Instead, one single procedure that I call the “null ritual” tends to be featured in texts and practiced by researchers. Its essence can be summarized in a few lines:
The null ritual:
1. Set up a statistical null hypothesis of “no mean difference” or “zero correlation.” Don’t specify the predictions of your research hypothesis or of any alternative substantive hypotheses.
2. Use 5% as a convention for rejecting the null. If significant, accept your research hypothesis. Report the result as p < 0.05, p < 0.01, or p < 0.001 (whichever comes next to the obtained p-value).
3. Always perform this procedure …
The routine reliance on the null

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Free trade

10 days ago

In 1817 David Ricardo presented — in Principles — a theory that was meant to explain why countries trade and, based on the concept of opportunity cost, how the pattern of export and import is ruled by countries exporting goods in which they have a comparative advantage and importing goods in which they have a comparative disadvantage.
Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, however, didn’t explain why the comparative advantage was the way it was. At the beginning of the 20th century, two Swedish economists — Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin — presented a theory/model/theorem according to which the comparative advantages arose from differences in factor endowments between countries. Countries have comparative advantages in producing goods that use up production factors that

Read More »

On probabilism and statistics

13 days ago

On probabilism and statistics

‘Mr Brown has exactly two children. At least one of them is a boy. What is the probability that the other is a girl?’ What could be simpler than that? After all, the other child either is or is not a girl. I regularly use this example on the statistics courses I give to life scientistsworking in the pharmaceutical industry. They all agree that the probability is one-half.
So they are all wrong. I haven’t said that the older child is a boy.The child I mentioned, the boy, could be the older or the younger child. This means that Mr Brown can have one of three possible combinations of two children: both boys, elder boy and younger girl, elder girl and younger boy, the fourth combination of two girls being excluded by what I have

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Abduction — beyond deduction and induction

16 days ago

From Lars Syll
Science is made possible by the fact that there are structures that are durable and independent of our knowledge or beliefs about them. There exists a reality beyond our theories and concepts of it. Contrary to positivism, yours truly would as a critical realist argue that the main task of science is not to detect event-regularities between observed facts, but rather to identify and explain the underlying structures/forces/powers/ mechanisms that produce the observed events.
Given that what we are looking for is to be able to explain what is going on in the world we live in, it would — instead of building models based on logic-axiomatic, topic-neutral, context-insensitive, and non-ampliative deductive reasoning, as in mainstream economic theory — be so much more fruitful

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Mainstream economics — a methodological reductionist strait-jacket.

17 days ago

Mainstream economics — a methodological reductionist strait-jacket.

Jamie Morgan: To a member of the public it must seem weird that it is possible to state, as you do, such fundamental criticism of an entire field of study. The perplexing issue from a third party point of view is how do we reconcile good intention (or at least legitimate sense of self as a scholar), and power and influence in the world with error, failure and falsity in some primary sense; given that the primary problem is methodological, the issues seem to extend in different ways from Milton Friedman to Robert Lucas Jr, from Paul Krugman to Joseph Stiglitz. Do such observations give you pause? My question (invitation) I suppose, is how does one reconcile (explain or account for) the

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Abduction — beyond deduction and induction

19 days ago

Abduction — beyond deduction and induction

Science is made possible by the fact that there are structures that are durable and independent of our knowledge or beliefs about them. There exists a reality beyond our theories and concepts of it. Contrary to positivism, yours truly would as a critical realist argue that the main task of science is not to detect event-regularities between observed facts, but rather to identify and explain the underlying structures/forces/powers/ mechanisms that produce the observed events.
Given that what we are looking for is to be able to explain what is going on in the world we live in, it would — instead of building models based on logic-axiomatic, topic-neutral, context-insensitive, and non-ampliative deductive reasoning,

Read More »

Mainstream economics — sacrificing realism at the altar of mathematical purity

20 days ago

From Lars Syll
This critique goes beyond the narrowly technical — that the workhorse neoclassical model of the economy was found to be lame when it came to running a real crisis race. The deeper critique is that these models, and the technical language that accompanies them, have played a role in policy and in society that has been disproportionate in two senses. First, disproportionate relative to our state of knowledge. Existing economic frameworks have shouldered a policy weight that is simply too great for them to bear, given the degree of uncertainty and fragility that surrounds them. Second, disproportionate because these frameworks placed an excessive degree of policy power in the hands of the technocrats wielding them …
Mainstream economic models have sacrificed too much

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Mainstream economics — sacrificing realism at the altar of mathematical purity

22 days ago

This critique goes beyond the narrowly technical — that the workhorse neoclassical model of the economy was found to be lame when it came to running a real crisis race. The deeper critique is that these models, and the technical language that accompanies them, have played a role in policy and in society that has been disproportionate in two senses. First, disproportionate relative to our state of knowledge. Existing economic frameworks have shouldered a policy weight that is simply too great for them to bear, given the degree of uncertainty and fragility that surrounds them. Second, disproportionate because these frameworks placed an excessive degree of policy power in the hands of the technocrats wielding them …
Mainstream economic models have sacrificed too much realism

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Nils Frahm

23 days ago

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I programmet Text och musik med Eric Schüldt — som sänds på söndagsförmiddagarna i P2 mellan klockan 11 och 12 — kan man lyssna på seriös musik och en programledare som har något att säga och inte bara låter foderluckan glappa.
I en tid — många kallar den ‘modern’ — då alla förväntar sig omedelbar behovstillfredsställelse här och nu, njuter jag av att få gå och längta efter nästa söndags musikupplevelse och betraktelser över tillvarons mystik.

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Causal mediation

23 days ago

From Lars Syll
In the real world, it’s my impression that almost all the mediation analyses that people actually fit in the social and medical sciences are misguided: lots of examples where the assumptions aren’t clear and where, in any case, coefficient estimates are hopelessly noisy and where confused people will over-interpret statistical significance …
So how to do it? I don’t think traditional path analysis or other multivariate methods of the throw-all-the-data-in-the-blender-and-let-God-sort-em-out variety will do the job. Instead we need some structure and some prior information.
Andrew Gelman
Most facts have many different, possible, alternative explanations, but we usually want to find — since all real explanation takes place relative to a set of alternatives — the best of

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Axel Leijonhufvud in perspective

23 days ago

Axel Leijonhufvud in perspective

Axel Leijonhufvud’s sad passing on May 5th has rightly stimulated a round of tributes to a thinker of uncommon breadth. But there is perhaps reason to doubt how widely appreciated the diversity of his thinking really was. Leijonhufvud changed the colors of his economic reasoning in response to many strands of 20th-century discussion, repainting each one. He had an ample palette and his color mixes were always interesting – an artist of macroeconomics indeed. Never lacking confidence and blessed with understated charisma, he was a member of one of Sweden’s oldest aristocratic families …
Axel’s substantial contributions to economic thinking came in sequence. Each differed substantially from its predecessor. The first was

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Causal mediation

24 days ago

In the real world, it’s my impression that almost all the mediation analyses that people actually fit in the social and medical sciences are misguided: lots of examples where the assumptions aren’t clear and where, in any case, coefficient estimates are hopelessly noisy and where confused people will over-interpret statistical significance …
So how to do it? I don’t think traditional path analysis or other multivariate methods of the throw-all-the-data-in-the-blender-and-let-God-sort-em-out variety will do the job. Instead we need some structure and some prior information.
Andrew Gelman

Most facts have many different, possible, alternative explanations, but we usually want to find — since all real explanation takes place relative to a set of alternatives — the best of all

Read More »

To Ukraine with love

26 days ago

To Ukraine with love

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This one is for all my brothers and sisters in Ukraine, fighting oppression and risking your lives on your long walk to freedom.
May God be with you.
Never give in. Never give up.

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