Milton Friedman's Stance: The Methodology of Causal Realism

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Milton Friedman is usually regarded as an instrumentalist on the basis of his infamous claim that economic theories are to be judged by their predictions and not by the realism of their assumptions. This interpretation sits oddly with Friedman's empirical work - e.g., Friedman and Schwartz''s monetary history - and his explicit rejection of theories of the business cycle that, while based on accurate correlations, nevertheless do not make economic sense. In this paper, I try to reconcile Friedman's methodological writings with his practices as an empirical economist by, first, taking his roots in Alfred Marshall seriously and, second, by taking the methodological implications of his empirical work seriously. Friedman dislikes the word "cause". Nevertheless, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Friedman is best understood as a causal realist - that is, one who understands the object of scientific inquiry as the discovery through empirical investigation of the true causal mechanisms underlying observable phenomena.








Kevin Douglas Hoover

Professor of Economics

Professor Hoover's research interests include macroeconomics, monetary economics, the history of economics, and the philosophy and methodology of empirical economics. His recent work in economics has focused on the application of causal search methodologies for structural vector autoregression, the history of microfoundational programs in macroeconomics, and Roy Harrod's early work on dynamic macroeconomics. In philosophy, he has concentrated on issues related to causality, especially in economics, and on reductionism -- the philosophical counterpart to microfoundations. Recent publications include:

  • "Trygve Haavelmo's Experimental Methodology and Scenario Analysis in a Cointegrated Vector Autoregression" (Econometric Theory, 2015), 
  • "Reductionism in Economics:  Intentionality and Eschatological Justification in the Microfoundations of Macroeconomics" (Philosophy of Science 2015), 
  • "Mathematical Economics Comes to America:  Charles S. Peirce’s Engagement with Cournot’s Recherches sur les Principes Mathematiques de la Théorie des Richesses" (Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2015), 
  • "The Genesis of Samuelson and Solow’s Price-Inflation Phillips Curve" (History of Economics Review, 2015), 
  • "Solow's Harrod: Transforming Cyclical Dynamics into a Model of Long-run Growth" (European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 2015), 
  • "In the Kingdom of Solovia:  The Rise of Growth Economics at MIT, 1956-1970" (History of Political Economy 2014), 
  • “Still Puzzling: Evaluating the Price Puzzle in an Empirically Identified Structural Vector Autoregression” (Empirical Economics, 2014),
  • "On the Reception of Haavelmo's Econometric Thought" (Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 2014) – winner of the History of Economics Society Best Paper Award in 2015.  

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