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Adjusting the model to adjust the world: constructive mechanisms in postwar general equilibrium theory

Ivan Boldyrev () and Alexey Ushakov

Journal of Economic Methodology, 2016, vol. 23, issue 1, 38-56

Abstract: Economic methodologists most often study the relations between models and reality while focusing on the issues of the model's epistemic relevance in terms of its relation to the ‘real world’ and representing the real world in a model. We complement the discussion by bringing the model's constructive mechanisms or self-implementing technologies in play. By this, we mean the elements of the economic model that are aimed at ‘implementing’ it by envisaging the ways to change the reality in order to bring it more in line with the model. We are thus concerned mainly not with the ways to change the model to ‘fit’ the reality, but rather with the model's own armature that is supposed to transform the world along theoretical lines. The case we study is Arrow--Debreu--McKenzie general equilibrium model. In particular, we show the following: gradient methods and stability could be regarded as constructive mechanisms of general equilibrium modeling in the context of market socialism debates; the obsession of general equilibrium theorists with these concepts can be partly explained by the fact that they hoped not to be faithful to reality, but rather to adjust it to fit the theoretical model; mechanism design theory initiated by the stability theorist Leonid Hurwicz could be seen as a successor of this position. We conclude by showing the relevance of this analysis for epistemic culture of much of contemporary economics and hence, claim that it is an important complement to the traditional philosophy of economic modeling.

Date: 2016
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DOI: 10.1080/1350178X.2014.1003581

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