Disciplining your theory

Daniel Klein has three suggestions on what you should ask yourself (HT - Tyler Cowen):

1. Theory of what?
2. Why should we care?
3. What merit in your explanation?

I think it's a good list.

As Klein does in lots of cases, he tests whether other economists conform to what he thinks is good theorizing (like similar tests of whether economists are good classical liberals). And he comes up with a number: out of 66 articles in the Journal of Economic Theory, only 12% pass his theory test.

This sort of exercise, I think, is very problematic (I haven't read the linked paper in detail, but the Journal of Economic Theory analysis is taken from an earlier EJW paper I have read).

Ultimately, what ends up happening is the answers to these questions are somewhat different depending on the audience - particularly the second and third one. These are subjective. I don't care about everything you care about. To a certain extent, even meritorious scholarship is subjective.

Just like Daniel Klein's previous finding that non-libertarians aren't economically enlightened, the finding that 12% of the publications in the Journal of Economic Theory aren't theories should have sent up a bunch of red flags.

So I'm not sure that's the right direction to take this. But I do think that if you can't convince yourself about the answers to these three questions, you're going to have no chance of convincing anyone else.