We are not newly created, innocent, rational, and reasonable beings. We are not created fresh in an unmarked Eden under a new sun. We are, instead, the products of hundreds of millions of years of myopic evolution, and thousands of years of unwritten and then recorded history. Our past has built up layer upon layer of instincts, propensities, habits of thought, patterns of interaction, and material resources.
On top of this historical foundation, we build our civilization. Were it not for our history, our labor would not just be in vain; it would be impossible.
Can nothing be done to make [economists] more useful in explaining the world as it is, rather than as it is assumed to be in their stylized models?....
For example, there should be more teaching of economic history. We all have good reason to be grateful that US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is an expert on the Great Depression and the authorities' flawed policy responses then, rather than in the finer points of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium theory. As a result, he was ready to adopt unconventional measures when the crisis erupted, and was persuasive in influencing his colleagues.
Many conference participants agreed that the study of economics should be set in a broader political context, with greater emphasis on the role of institutions. Students should also be taught some humility.
Doing positive economics requires basic virtues plus a commitment to put the duty to science ahead of consequential goals. It requires ethical pluralism.