Thursday, March 5, 2009

Schumpeter on Math

One somewhat surprising thing we learn from Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw's delightful biography of Joseph Schumpeter, was that he was an advocate of the use of mathematical tools in economics, even though his own work was not mathematical.
On his own, he performed daily exercises in calculus and tried to master advanced techniques such as matrix algebra. He even raised the question of a new type of math that would capture the dynamic changes he saw as the heart of capitalism. One diary entry of 1948 mentions, with a question mark "Evolutionary math?" - a tool that could do for his own system what conventional math had done for Walras's static equilibrium. But there was no evolutionary math at that time in sense that Schumpeter meant, and there is still not enough today to "operationalize" his system thoroughly. Schumpeter knew that he had little talent in mathmenatics, but he continued to challenge himself and enjoy the chase. "Whatever other advantages math may have," he wrote in his diary, "it is certainly the purest of human pleasures."
Some encouragement for those of us who come to study economics in spite of our natural level of mathematical ability.

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