Actually, last week we had two days of Dutt, the best academic experience I’ve ever had.
Talking to Dutt was a confirmation of an old dream: to go abroad for my Ph.D.
Not that we don’t have excellent professors in Brazil, we do! Gilberto de Assis Libânio, Dutt’s host during his journey through UFMG, is a brilliant professor as well, and I’m quite glad to study Macroeconomics with him. However, he also took his Ph. D. abroad, at Notre Dame, which partially explains his broad vision of economics.
Back to Dutt, the most remarkable feature of his personality is that he is definitely not radical. In economics we are very much used to extreme reasoning, there are several schools of thought fighting over semantics. Had we learned “The tower of Babel” moral, much of the disasters we see in our society could have been avoided. Rather than working together, however, economists preferred fighting for hegemony within the profession. Take mathematical models, for instance. Instead of debating which models work under specific contexts, we engaged in a hopeless competition, as if some particular model could answer everything everywhere. I wish I could say economics is playing a zero sum game, but I think it’s a negative one.
Dutt’s open minded vision of our science reminded me the most important lesson my father has taught me, Aristotle’s Golden Mean. My dad behaves like a Greek philosopher in many ways, even though his Ph. D. was in a different field within philosophy. If economists took Aristotle seriously, the current debate about pluralism in economics would be redundant. Unfortunately, nevertheless, we focus so much in mathematics we can barely dialogue with other fields of science. The trade-off of being a brilliant mathematician is the lack of a critical view. An obsessed mathematician might not even notice the homeless family living nearby his house due to the fact that every time he walks by them he is trying to solve one of the millennium prize problems.
I have no problem with mathematics; it has always been my favorite subject, actually. However, thanks to my father and the great professors I had during my undergrad at UFMG such as Hugo da Gama Cerqueira , João Antônio de Paula, Eduardo da Motta Albuquerque and Marcelo Magalhães Godoy, it has become clear that sticking to a particular interpretation of the world isn’t going to change our dismal science, not to say our society, which should be our goal.
Some students choose economics to earn a fat check working at the stock market or the like. But I still believe (you can call me naive) that most students engage in economics in order to grasp a better understanding of our society, and, in the limit, change the world (or at least to help the homeless family living nearby you).
Dutt’s lesson, put it short, is that optimization might be helpful to understand specific issues and we shouldn’t doom mainstream economics. The blind belief of standard economics as a method that can solve any problem, on the other hand, is jeopardizing to the future of economics, and, more importantly, of our society.