British academy

Journal of the British Academy

What if? Models, fact and fiction in economics
Mary S. Morgan
London School of Economics; Fellow of the British Academy
DOI 10.5871/jba/002.231

Full text posted to JBA 2, pp. 231-268, 18 December 2014 (PDF file - 7.7 MB)

Keynes Lecture in Economics | read 16 October 2013 (video recording available)

Abstract: Economists build models to understand the economy, but to outsiders these often seem to be imagined or fictional worlds, accounts that seem closer to those of science fiction than to matters of science. Such a judgement underrates the importance of fictional elements and the imagination in the way economists make and use their models. Paying attention to the ‘what-if’ questions that economists ask when they use their models reveals how they create the keys that enable them to translate between their imaginary model worlds and the real economic world we all live in.

Keywords: economists, economic models, fictional worlds, ‘what-if’ questions.

Lower resolution version (PDF file - 1.2 MB)