Stumbling Upon the Solutions
By Amy Willis
Has the Nobel prize committee been ignoring the “Big Questions” in awarding the economics prize? What are these big questions, and why does it seem the discipline at large ignores them as well? These questions form the basis of this conversation between EconTalk host Russ Roberts and returning guest Branko Milanovic.
Let’s hear what you have to say in response to this fascinating conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments section, and/or use our prompts to spark your own conversation offline.
1- What is the nature of Milanovic’s criticism of current research in economics? What does he mean when he says that economics is “the only social science that does not really relate in a sustained way with its origins?”
2- What ARE the big questions? What have we learned (or not learned) from them? What are some “big questions” Roberts and Milanovic did not mention in their conversation, and what might we seek to learn from these questions?
3- How might the work of Adam Smith illuminate how someone might go about trying to answer these big questions? (Consider also Roberts’s reference to Adam Ferguson‘s notion of “stumbling on solutions.”)
4- In what ways do Milanovic and Roberts suggest that literature can help us understand the big questions of economics? What are some titles you would suggest for this purpose, and what is it you think we can learn from them?
4- The conversation turns to the difficult question of slavery- specifically, whether it was irrelevant or essential to the success of the American economy? What do Roberts and Milanovic suggest we need to learn about this question?