Everything We’ve Learned About Modern Economic Theory Is Wrong

Ole Peters, a theoretical physicist in the U.K., claims to have the solution. All it would do is upend three centuries of economic thought.

The proposition is about as outlandish as it sounds: Everything we know about modern economics is wrong.

And the man who says he can prove it doesn’t have a degree in economics.

But Ole Peters is no ordinary crank. A physicist by training, his theory draws on research done in close collaboration with the late Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann, father of the quark. He’s also won over two noted thinkers in the world of finance — Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Michael Mauboussin — not to mention a groundswell of enthusiastic supporters in the Twittersphere.

His beef is that all too often, economic models assume something called “ergodicity.” That is, the average of all possible outcomes of a given situation informs how any one person might experience it. But that’s often not the case, which Peters says renders much of the field’s predictions irrelevant in real life. In those instances, his solution is to borrow math commonly used in thermodynamics to model outcomes using the correct average.

If Peters is right — and it’s a pretty ginormous if — the consequences are hard to overstate. Simply put, his “fix” would upend three centuries of economic thought, and reshape our understanding of the field as well as everything it touches, from risk management to income inequality to how central banks set interest rates and even the use of behavioral economics to fight Covid-19.

“The problem is that much of academic economics has gone off the rails,” Peters, lead researcher of the London Mathematical Laboratory’s economics program, wrote in an email. “We can trace back the reasons for this to the 17th century, but it’s important, first of all, to state clearly that something is not the way it should be, and that any statements coming from economics must be evaluated carefully because they may be based on flawed reasoning.”

Peters is far from the first to play the part of the outsider coming to bravely save economics from itself. There’s even a joke among economists that every few years, a physicist stumbles into the field, looks at the math and declares that none of it makes sense (and then tries in vain to fix it). He concedes his ideas haven’t gotten very far with actual economists. Many have either rejected them outright or dismissed them as nothing more than a willful misunderstanding of the facts. (More on that later.)

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Source: Brandon Kochkodin | Bloomberg

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