Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading "War and Peace" in Geneva

Economists like to quote Tolstoy, but they usually stick with the beginning of Anna Karenina: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This is excellent when one talks about the low explanatory power of growth regressions. But economic theorists should also read War and Peace. There seems to be an analogy between some economic models (and modellers) and Pfuel’s theory of war. Check it out:

Pfuel.. had a science--the theory of oblique movements.. and all he came across in the history of more recent warfare seemed to him absurd.. so many blunders were committed … that these wars could not be called wars, they did not accord with the theory, and therefore could not serve as material for science.

In 1806 Pfuel had been … responsible, for the plan ... that ended in Jena ... but he did not see the least proof of the fallibility of his theory in the disasters of that war. On the contrary, the deviations made from his theory were, in his opinion, the sole cause of the whole disaster... Pfuel was one of those theoreticians who so love their theory that they lose sight of the theory's object--its practical application. His love of theory made him hate everything practical, and he would not listen to it. He was even pleased by failures, for failures resulting from deviations in practice from the theory only proved to him the accuracy of his theory.

I read the book in Italian, but it took me 5 minutes to find the quote in English. Project Gutenberg is amazing! The whole thing is here (Book nine, Chapter X).
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