The Fundamentals: with a wink and a nudge
Since we are homeschooling parents, my wife and I are responsible for grading all of our children's schoolwork. We had a little disagreement this week over the practice of scoring partial credit on high school math tests. I said that partial credit is fine while my wife expects no errors whatsoever, no matter how trivial. I explained -- from my point of view as a former math major -- that simple errors in arithmetic can be glossed over with a wink and a nudge. I mean, come on, and try to find a math professor who is error free. Just try.
In advanced math, it is expected that partial credit be given where the work shows knowledge of the concepts being tested. No one doubts that the student has a grasp of 1 + 1. Moreover, no one believes that a simple error is something else altogether -- the result of the student questioning the fundamentals of arithmetic.
Now, turn to economics. Here the fundamentals are to be questioned. In fact, the professor and student are to brush them aside whenever convenient. The wink and nudge in this instance is not a hat tip of recognition to the student who grasps concepts but errors on the basics. No, the wink and the nudge are the secret signs that the student has exited the science of economics and entered the wonderland of political economy -- a world cloaked in the acceptance of economics as a science, yet a world divorced from the realms of science.
A mathematician who dared to argue that one plus one is not two would be laughed out of the field. Yet an economist, such as Krugman, can refute the fundamentals of the science of economics and be herald a laureate -- a visionary.
Note: Not to fear, I will not accept minor errors when the fundamentals of economics are being tested. No wink and no nudge here.