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The World in the Model: how economists work and think

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Mary S Morgan
Cambridge University Press (September 2012)

During the last two centuries, the way economic science is done has changed radically: it has become a social science based on mathematical models in place of words. This book describes and analyses that change – both historically and philosophically – using a series of case studies to illuminate the nature and the implications of these changes. It is not a technical book; it is written for the intelligent person who wants to understand how economics works from the inside out. This book will be of interest to economists and science studies scholars (historians, sociologists and philosophers of science). But it also aims at a wider readership in the public intellectual sphere, building on the current interest in all things economic and on the recent failure of the so-called economic model, which has shaped our beliefs and the world we live in.

  • Professor Mary Morgan is professor of history and philosophy of economics at LSE.

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Reviews - Advance praise

'This well-informed and beautifully written series of case studies offers the best analysis to date of how economists work with models. It should help all economists think more deeply about what they do and give others insights into the way economic reasoning works.'
Roger Backhouse, University of Birmingham

'Mary Morgan has developed a distinctive approach to economic methodology, relying on a great variety of examples – each one analysed and dissected in-depth like a careful entomologist. Her main message is that modelling should be kept distinct from formalism and mathematization: when we model, we use a specific entity both as an object of enquiry and as an instrument to study economic reality. Historians and philosophers of economics have been waiting for this book for years, and it will not fail to impress.'
Francesco Guala, University of Milan

'Modern economics is about models – they are the 'working objects' of economic science – and yet we have traditionally had so little understanding of exactly what models are and how they work. This book provides us with that understanding. It is the culmination of Mary Morgan's many years of research on economic models and as such it is the definitive treatment of the subject. She gives us a complex historical investigation – not 3-by-5 card economic methodology – and such a detailed case studies-based history is exactly what is needed to understand the diversity of ways that models work, and have worked, in economic science. It will be an instant classic in the history and philosophy of modern economics.'
D. Wade Hands, University of Puget Sound

'The Nobel laureate James Heckman has written that, just as the Jews are 'the people of the book', economists are 'the people of the model'. Mary Morgan in her The World in the Model provides an anthropological account of economists as model-makers and model-users – a mixture of their stories, their practices, and their languages. In Morgan's case studies, history provides an insightful window on methodology and philosophy, which, in turn, enlightens and enlivens a complex and previously untold history.'
Kevin D. Hoover, Duke University

'In this superb book, models appear as little, artificial worlds, and Mary Morgan is the perfect guide to their structures and mysteries. Never content with generalizations, she joins the reader in exploring a series of rich and intriguing cases and shows how much the modern role of economics depends on the ambiguous relationships of these models to real economic institutions and behaviors.'
Ted Porter, University of California, Los Angeles

'The World in the Model argues that economic models are not merely or mainly representations of phenomena; they are flexible tools that configure the domain, constitute its objects, and display salient features, thereby facilitating thinking about economics. Through a series of carefully crafted case studies, Mary S. Morgan shows how economic modeling and thinking about economic matters evolved in tandem. Anyone interested in scientific models or in economic understanding will find this book rewarding.'
Catherine Z. Elgin, Harvard University

The World in the Model