Economics has always had an unstable reputation in the academic world as well as in the public eye. Some consider economists to be scientists while others see them as disguised ideologues. The resulting insecurity of their discipline's status has driven economists continually to redefine its scope, methods, and content. Since the 1930s economists have increasingly emphasized the scientific, quantitative side of their field, which has directed research to topics that can be elaborated through mathematical models. Economist Melvin Reder argues that this ongoing historical shift has been the result of pressure from two directions: from society's demand that expert advice be based on "scientific findings", and from economists themselves, who have wanted to view their own profession as a science. This book describes the profession of economics as it has developed in response to these challenges. The diversity of the responses points to persistent internal disagreements within the economics community about its proper scope and methods. These disagreements, in turn, have led to incompatible proposals for the direction of research and divergent recommendations for public policy.
Although Reder does not pretend to resolve these difficulties, he appraises different arguments and demonstrates how they have influenced both economists' behaviour and public esteem for the profession. While recognizing that serious questions remain about economics's scientific status and practical utility, this text shows where economics has obtained practically usable results and where its fruits have been limited to elaboration of analytical constructions of uncertain applicability. 5 line drawings