what economists should learn from sociology
I was giving a talk about my research on the politics of the anti-war movement at the GMU econ department’s public choice seminar. At lunch, my good friend Bryan Caplan and his colleague Ilea Rainer asked me: what are five things that economists should learn from sociology? We didn’t get through all five, but here are three that came up:
- Sociologists have a deep appreciation of imitation and conformity as a basic feature of human behavior. Economists rarely model this explicitly. If it is so important, as sociologists have shown, then economists are really missing the boat.
- Social networks/social structure matters. Simple idea but few economists sit around and model the effects of social structure. Usually the best you get is a recognition that “norms” matter. My argument is that economists should care because social structures produce opportunities (e.g., you hear about jobs through networks). Most models assume that information/resources are out there but few wonder or model how networks/institutions create them.
- Collect some real data. Most economists are “data downloaders.” They are afraid to get out there and survey or observe people, which limits your questions to what major data sets have asked. Experimental work is an improvement, but it is still a highly artificial construction. Go out and observe some markets with your eyes and get your hands dirty. Live a little!
What would you add?
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