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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

Game theory — a waste of time on a staggering scale

1 day ago

From Lars Syll
We certainly agree that regularities or models that explain or that give heuristic value over many different cases are highly desirable. But ones that do neither are not — especially if they use up huge resources along the way. When looking at the details, the Prisoner’s Dilemma’s explanatory record so far is poor and its heuristic record mixed at best. The only way to get a reliable sense of what theoretical input would actually be useful is via detailed empirical investigations. What useful contribution — whether explanatory, heuristic or none at all — the Prisoner’s Dilemma makes to such investigations cannot be known until they are tried. Therefore resources would be better directed towards that rather than towards yet more theoretical development or laboratory

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Why economics is an impossible science

8 days ago

From Lars Syll
In a word, Economics is an Impossible Science because by its own definition the determining conditions of the economy are not economic: they are “exogenous.” Supposedly a science of things, it is by definition without substance, being rather a mode of behavior: the application of scarce means to alternative ends so as to achieve the greatest possible satisfaction—neither means, ends, nor satisfaction substantially specified. Exogenous, however, is the culture, all those meanings, values, institutions, and structures, from gender roles, race relations, food preferences, and ethnicities, to technical inventions, legal regulations, political parties, etc., etc. The effect is a never-ending series of new theoretical breakthroughs, each an Economics du jour worthy of a Nobel

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Den farliga statsskuldsretoriken

14 days ago

Publiceringen av Finansdepartementets långtidsutredning och den inledda översynen av budgetramverket har startat en livlig debatt. Själv har jag i en bilaga till utredningen – liksom den – förordat ett underskottsmål på 0,5 procent av bnp i stället för dagens överskottsmål på 1/3 procent av bnp och att skuldankaret, riktmärket för den offentliga sektorns skuld, höjs från 35 till 45-50 procent av bnp.
Förslagen har från flera håll i högt tonläge kritiserats för att utgöra ett farligt paradigmskifte …
Man ska komma ihåg att det skuldbegrepp som diskuteras avser bruttoskulden i den offentliga sektorn. Sektorn har i dag, när ålderspensions-systemet inkluderas, så stora finansiella tillgångar att dess finansiella nettoställning (skillnaden mellan finansiella tillgångar och

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Les mensonges de la ministre de l’Éducation, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra

15 days ago

Les mensonges de la ministre de l’Éducation, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra

La ministre de l’Éducation, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, a récemment été au cœur de plusieurs scandales qui ont secoué le paysage politique français. Ces scandales ont soulevé des questions sur son leadership, sa gestion et son intégrité en tant que responsable de l’éducation nationale.
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Nytt finanspolitiskt ramverk? Ja tack!

16 days ago

Nytt finanspolitiskt ramverk? Ja tack!

Förhållandet mellan ränta och BNP:s tillväxttakt är central för hur man ska se på den offentliga förmögenhets- och skuldutvecklingen. En positiv ränte-tillväxtdifferens innebär att det finns en intertemporal målkonflikt: ett lägre primärt finansiellt sparande (högre offentliga utgifter i förhållande till offentliga intäkter) idag måste betalas med högre primärt sparande (lägre offentliga utgifter iförhållande till offentliga intäkter) i morgon. Huruvida det är motiverat eller inte beror på hur man väger de kortsiktiga fördelarna mot de långsiktiga nackdelarna. Stora temporära offentliga utgiftsbehov – främst klimatrelaterade investeringar – kan innebära att de positiva effekterna av högre offentlig skuldsättning är

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Mainstream economics — an explanatory disaster

16 days ago

From Lars Syll
To achieve explanatory success, a theory should, minimally, satisfy two criteria: it should have determinate implications for behavior, and the implied behavior should be what we actually observe. These are necessary conditions, not sufficient ones. Rational-choice theory often fails on both counts. The theory may be indeterminate, and people may be irrational. In what was perhaps the first sustained criticism of the theory, Keynes emphasized indeterminacy, notably because of the pervasive presence of uncertainty …
Disregarding some more technical sources of indeterminacy, the most basic one is embarrassingly simple: how can one impute to the social agents the capacity to make the calculations that occupy many pages of mathematical appendixes in the leading journals of

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Religious politics — the greatest threat to democracy

17 days ago

Religious politics — the greatest threat to democracy

Religious politics are the greatest threat to democracy, more than social or economic inequality, lying politicians, or corruption, all of which are bad enough. Liberal democratic institutions exist to resolve conflicts of interests. Disputes over taxation, land use, farm subsidies, and so on, can be settled through argument and compromise between political parties. Sacred matters, however, cannot. God’s truth is non-negotiable.
That is why a militant religious group like Hamas cannot be a democratic political party. In a radical Islamic state, there is no room for debate or compromise. The same goes for Israeli religious extremists who believe their rights are justified by the Bible. Water rights are

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Mainstream economics — an explanatory disaster

18 days ago

Mainstream economics — an explanatory disaster

To achieve explanatory success, a theory should, minimally, satisfy two criteria: it should have determinate implications for behavior, and the implied behavior should be what we actually observe. These are necessary conditions, not sufficient ones. Rational-choice theory often fails on both counts. The theory may be indeterminate, and people may be irrational. In what was perhaps the first sustained criticism of the theory, Keynes emphasized indeterminacy, notably because of the pervasive presence of uncertainty …
Disregarding some more technical sources of indeterminacy, the most basic one is embarrassingly simple: how can one impute to the social agents the capacity to make the calculations that occupy

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Daniel Waldenström och andra livsfarliga nationalekonomer

19 days ago

Om jag ska plocka fram det som jag i efterhand har värdesatt mest från min ekonomiutbildning så var det kursen i ekonomisk historia … Framför allt så fick vi läsa boken ”Manias, Panics and Crashes: A history of Financial Crises” av Charles Kindleberger. Den gav ett mycket intresseväckande perspektiv på kapitalismen och den ekonomiska utvecklingen under de senaste århundradena, som just kantats av finansiella krascher … Det som hände i Sverige i början på 90-talet var precis som i boken …
Då liksom nu så lutade sig de ledande svenska nationalekonomerna i huvudsak mot den ”neoklassiska” modellen för att förklara de makroekonomiska skeendena. Det är i huvudsak denna teori och dess trossatser om de privata marknadernas effektivitets- och jämviktsskapande förmågor som

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Jag tror på den ensamma människan

20 days ago

Jag tror på den ensamma människan

Jag tror på den ensamma människan,
på henne som vandrar ensam,
som inte hundlikt löper till vittring,
som inte varglikt flyr för mänskovittring:
På en gång människa och anti-människa.
Hur nå gemenskap?
Fly den övre och yttre vägen:
Det som är boskap i andra är boskap också i dig.
Gå den undre och inre vägen:
Det som är botten i dig är botten också i andra.
Svårt att vänja sig vid sig själv.
Svårt att vänja sig av med sig själv.
Den som gör det skall ändå aldrig bli övergiven.
Den som gör det skall ändå alltid förbli solidarisk.
Det opraktiska är det enda praktiska
i längden.

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The 20 Best Econometrics Blogs and Websites

21 days ago

The 20 Best Econometrics Blogs and Websites

Yours truly, of course, feels truly honoured to find himself on the list of the world’s 20 Best Econometrics Blogs and Websites.
1. The Stata Blog
2. Bruno Rodrigues
7. Eran Raviv Blog Statistics and Econometrics
9. How the (Econometric) Sausage is Made
14. Lars P Syll
Pålsson Syll received a PhD in economic history in 1991 and a PhD in economics in 1997, both at Lund University. He became an associate professor in economic history in 1995 and has since 2004 been a professor of social science at Malmö University. His primary research areas have been in the philosophy, history, and methodology of economics.

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The Keynes-Ramsey-Savage debate on probability

21 days ago

Mainstream economics nowadays usually assumes that agents that have to make choices under conditions of uncertainty behave according to Bayesian rules, axiomatized by Ramsey (1931) and Savage (1954) — that is, they maximize expected utility for some subjective probability measure that is continually updated according to Bayes theorem. If not, they are supposed to be irrational, and ultimately — via some “Dutch book” or “money pump” argument — susceptible to being ruined by some clever “bookie”.
Bayesianism reduces questions of rationality to questions of internal consistency (coherence) of beliefs, but – even granted this questionable reductionism – do rational agents really have to be Bayesian? As I have been arguing elsewhere (e. g. here, and here) there is no strong

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Econometric modeling and inference

24 days ago

From Lars Syll
The impossibility of proper specification is true generally in regression analyses across the social sciences, whether we are looking at the factors affecting occupational status, voting behavior, etc. The problem is that as implied by the three conditions for regression analyses to yield accurate, unbiased estimates, you need to investigate a phenomenon that has underlying mathematical regularities – and, moreover, you need to know what they are. Neither seems true … Even if there was some constancy, the processes are so complex that we have no idea of what the function looks like.
Researchers recognize that they do not know the true function and seem to treat, usually implicitly, their results as a good-enough approximation. But there is no basis for the belief that

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Econometric modeling and inference

25 days ago

Econometric modeling and inference

The impossibility of proper specification is true generally in regression analyses across the social sciences, whether we are looking at the factors affecting occupational status, voting behavior, etc. The problem is that as implied by the three conditions for regression analyses to yield accurate, unbiased estimates, you need to investigate a phenomenon that has underlying mathematical regularities – and, moreover, you need to know what they are. Neither seems true … Even if there was some constancy, the processes are so complex that we have no idea of what the function looks like.
Researchers recognize that they do not know the true function and seem to treat, usually implicitly, their results as a good-enough

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‘Vår ekonomi’ — nationalekonomisk lärobok med stora brister

27 days ago

‘Vår ekonomi’ — nationalekonomisk lärobok med stora brister

Varje höst håller your truly sedan fler år tillbaka en introduktionskurs i nationalekonomi för blivande gymnasielärare i samhällskunskap. Förutom några av mina egna böcker, står även Klas Eklunds Vår ekonomi på litteraturlistan.
Vår ekonomi kom år 2020 ut i sin senaste (15:e) upplaga. Imponerande och i sig ett bevis på bokens många förtjänster, inte minst de pedagogiska.
Men tyvärr har boken också — fortfarande — några riktigt stora brister. Framför allt när det gäller metodologiska och monetära frågor.
Nationalekonomi är en vetenskap som i hög grad bygger på användandet av modeller. Eklund presenterar modellanvändandet som ”en sorts förenklade beskrivningar av verkligheten” med vars hjälp

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Economics — an axiomatically based science doomed to fail

27 days ago

Economics — an axiomatically based science doomed to fail

A modern economy is a very complicated system. Since we cannot conduct controlled experiments on its smaller parts, or even observe them in isolation, the classical hard-science devices for discriminating between competing hypotheses are closed to us. The main alternative device is the statistical analysis of historical time-series. But then another difficulty arises. The competing hypotheses are themselves complex and subtle. We know before we start that all of them, or at least many of them, are capable of fitting the data in a gross sort of way. Then, in order to make more refined distinctions, we need long time-series observed under stationary conditions.
Unfortunately, however, economics is a

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How mainstream economics treats us all as criminals

28 days ago

How mainstream economics treats us all as criminals

For most mainstream economists a model is just a model and there are many models. Norms only enter into the picture in terms of clearly stated and testable components of models and models provide a means to explore the scope of theory. In principle, policy advocacy is supported by model findings and as such mainstream economists tend to start from the position that their work has the rigour and clarity of quantitative science and that its policy implications carry the force of empirical evidence. Critics meanwhile tend to argue that mainstream economics struggles to come to terms with the implicit normativity of its frames of reference and with the ethics its concepts and foci presuppose but that its

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Economics — a science in need of a realist methodology

29 days ago

Economics — a science in need of a realist methodology

What enables and yet constrains research? What is both medium and outcome of research? What do researchers reproduce without even knowing it? What is supposed to unite researchers but may divide them? What empowers researchers to speak but is never fully articulated? What is played out in the routine of research but can never be routinised? What is the responsibility of all researchers but for which none has a mandate?
The answer to all of these riddles is METHODOLOGY.
What Pawson says is not only true for ‘evaluation science’. It does apply to science at large, and certainly also to mainstream economics, whose methodology — more than anything else — is at the root of its manifest failures.
The field

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The loss of confidence in economists’ analyses

January 21, 2024

From Lars Syll
Ainsi, la crise de 2008 a créé la surprise dans les rangs des économistes influents, qui croyaient voir le monde entrer au XXIe siècle dans le temps de « la grande modération » – c’est-à-dire la prévention des mouvements économiques erratiques grâce au pilotage « scientifique » des politiques monétaires …
Cet épisode a sans conteste révélé une défaillance sévère du savoir économique …
Pourquoi cette perte de confiance envers les analyses des économistes ? Nous vivons aujourd’hui une « seconde mondialisation », dont la complexité spécifique et croissante ne se résume plus à la mécanique des marchés. Un vaste chantier de retour sur le savoir existant s’est ouvert, dont voici, sans prétention à l’exhaustivité, quelques têtes de chapitre : la mécanique de l’innovation, la

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The loss of confidence in economists’ analyses

January 21, 2024

Ainsi, la crise de 2008 a créé la surprise dans les rangs des économistes influents, qui croyaient voir le monde entrer au XXIe siècle dans le temps de « la grande modération » – c’est-à-dire la prévention des mouvements économiques erratiques grâce au pilotage « scientifique » des politiques monétaires …
Cet épisode a sans conteste révélé une défaillance sévère du savoir économique …
Pourquoi cette perte de confiance envers les analyses des économistes ? Nous vivons aujourd’hui une « seconde mondialisation », dont la complexité spécifique et croissante ne se résume plus à la mécanique des marchés. Un vaste chantier de retour sur le savoir existant s’est ouvert, dont voici, sans prétention à l’exhaustivité, quelques têtes de chapitre : la mécanique de l’innovation, la

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Serenity

January 20, 2024

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Sublime, breathtaking, and absolutely magnificent.
A choir of angels touching the depths of my soul.
In loving memory of my parents-in-law, Ritva [† 2021] and Erik Syll [† 2020]

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Christine Lagarde must have been reading my blog …

January 19, 2024

Christine Lagarde must have been reading my blog …

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde launched a stinging attack on the economics profession on Wednesday (17 January), accusing analysts of having “blind faith” in their models, which often bear little connection to reality.
Speaking at an event entitled “How to Trust Economics” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the ECB chief also suggested that economists constitute a “tribal clique” whose models largely discount the possibility of “exogenous shocks” such as pandemics, climate change-induced weather events, and sudden supply shortages – all of which have severely impacted Europe’s economy over the last few years.
Lagarde … also noted that upon assuming her current position as ECB

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Why quasi-experimental evaluations fail

January 19, 2024

Why quasi-experimental evaluations fail

Evaluation research tends to be method-driven. Everything needs to be apportioned as an ‘input’ or ‘output’, so that the programme itself becomes a ‘variable’, and the chief research interest in it is to inspect the dosage in order to see that a good proper spoonful has been applied …
The quasi-exprimental conception is again deficient. Communities clearly differ. They also have attributes that are not reducible to those of the individual members … A particular programme will only ‘work’  if the contextual conditions into which it is inserted are conducive to its operation, as it is implemented. Quasi-experimentation’s method of random allocation, or efforts to mimic it as closely as possible, represent an

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Design-based vs model-based inferences

January 17, 2024

Design-based vs model-based inferences

Following the introduction of the model-based inferential framework by Fisher and the introduction of the design-based inferential framework by Neyman [and Pearson], survey sampling statisticians began to identify their respective weaknesses.
With regard to the model-based framework, sampling statisticians found that conditioning on all stratification and selection/recruitment variables, and allowing for their potential interactions with independent variables, complicated model specification (Pfeffermann, 1996). Such conditioning also complicated interpretation of substantively interesting model parameters and swallowed needed degrees of freedom (Pfeffermann, Krieger, & Rinott, 1998). Additionally, such conditioning

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Are RCTs — really — the best way to establish causality?

January 15, 2024

Are RCTs — really — the best way to establish causality?

The best method is always the one that yields the most convincing and relevant answers in the context at hand. We all have our preferred methods that we think are underused. My own personal favorites are cross-tabulations and graphs that stay close to the data; the hard work lies in deciding what to put into them and how to process the data to learn something that we did not know before, or that changes minds. An appropriately constructed picture or cross-tabulation can undermine the credibility of a widely believed causal story, or enhance the credibility of a new one; such evidence is more informative about causes than a paper with the word “causal” in its title. The art is in knowing what to

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Jon Elster and the dangers of excessive ambitions

January 13, 2024

Jon Elster and the dangers of excessive ambitions

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Most mainstream economists want to explain social phenomena, structures and patterns, based on the assumption that the agents are acting in an optimizing — rational — way to satisfy given, stable and well-defined goals.
The procedure is analytical. The whole is broken down into its constituent parts to be able to explain (reduce) the aggregate (macro) as the result of the interaction of its parts (micro). Building their economic models, modern mainstream economists ground their models on a set of core assumptions describing the agents as ‘rational’ actors and a set of auxiliary assumptions. Together these assumptions make up the base model of all mainstream economic models. Based on

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