adequacy of the methods used, rather than of the relative difficulty of the problems.
One of the most significant discussions now in progress turns on how far the methods bywhich the astonishing results in pure and applied science have been achieved may betransferred to other human activities.
-James B. ConantOf course, many economists contend that scientific methods are not applicable in theirfield. Frank H. Knight, a prominent economist of the post-World War I era, wrote
extensively on the subject, and expressed the opposing view clearly. He characterized ―the
notion that social problems can be solved by applying the methods by which man has
achieved mastery over nature‖ as ―false, and illusory.‖ In support of this conclusion,however, he makes this statement: ―But obviously, the basic problems are value problems,
to which natural science has little relevance... It [science] shows
to do things, how to
achieve a concretely defined objective, not what objectives to pursue.‖
of this statement is that the identification of ―what objectives to pursue‖ isthe primary task of economics, and that the issue of ―how to reach a concretely definedobjective‖ is irrelevant. Paul Samuelson makes the same point by defining the objective
of economics as obtaining the answers to three questions, all of which are addressed to the
issue of ―what objectives to pursue.‖ He lists the following:
What commodities shall be produced and in what quantities?2.
How shall goods be produced?3.
For whom shall goods be produced?
We need look no further to see why progress in economics has been so slow compared tothe rate of advance in the scientific fields. The inevitable result of the policy of concentrating attention on identifying the objectives is that economics is now long oncommendable objectives and short on methods by which to reach those objectives. Clearlythere is a wide gap here that needs to be filled by systematic study of the factual side of economics, which we may define as obtaining the answers to two very different questions,as follows:1.
How does the economic system operate?2.
How can we manipulate it to attain our defined objectives?The economists challenge the assertion that there are factual answers to these questions,and even deny that there are factual data that can be applied to a resolution of the issues.From Heilbroner and Thurow we get this assessment of the situation:One of the most important attributes of modern history is lodged in a striking differencebetween two kinds of knowledge: the knowledge we acquire in physics, chemistry,engineering, and other sciences, and that which we gain in the sphere of social or politicalor moral activity. The difference is that knowledge in some sciences is cumulative and