Sanjeev Sabhlok's blog

Thoughts on economics and liberty

Severe ddos attacks on this site

FYI – this site has been experiencing severe denial of service attacks for the past 3 months. It is likely to shut down again, soon. I’ve paid extra to Siteground for a CDN service, to no avail.

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Extract from David Kreps’s textbook on the purpose of economic models


1.2. The purpose of microeconomic theory

Having set out the basic categories of microeconomic theory (at least as practiced in this book), we come to the question: What do we intend to get out of the theory? The simple answer is a better understanding of economic activity and outcomes.

Why do we seek a better understanding? One reason that needs no explanation is simple intellectual curiosity. But beyond that, a better un­derstanding of economic activity can be useful in at least two ways. First, as a participant in the economic system, better understanding can lead to better outcomes for oneself. That is why budding business executives (are told to) study microeconomics; a better understanding of the ways in which markets work will allow them to make markets work better for themselves. And second, part of the study of microeconomics concerns the efficiency and specific inefficiencies in various institutional frameworks with a view towards policy. One tries to see whether a particular insti­tution can, by tinkering or by drastic change, be made to yield a socially better outcome; the vague presumption is that changes that improve the social weal might be made via social and political processes. In this book, we will touch on the efficiency of various institutions, although this will be relatively deemphasized.

What constitutes better understanding? Put differently, how does one know when one has learned something from an exercise in microeconomic theory? The standard acid test is that the theory should be (a) testable and (b) tested empirically, either in the real world or in the lab. But many of the models and theories given in this book have not been subjected to a rigorous empirical test, and some of them may never be. Yet, I maintain, models untested rigorously may still lead to better understanding, through a process that combines casual empiricism and intuition.

By casual empiricism joined with intuition I mean that the reader should look at any given model or idea and ask: Based on personal ex­perience and intuition about how things are, does this make sense? Does it help put into perspective things that have been observed? Does it help organize thoughts about a number of “facts?” When and if so, the exercise of theory construction has been useful.

Imagine that you are trying to explain a particular phenomenon with one of two competing theories. Neither fits the data perfectly, but the first does a somewhat better job according to standard statistical measures. At the same time, the first theory is built on some hypotheses about behavior by individuals that are entirely ad hoc, whereas the second is based on a model of behavior that appeals to your intuition about how people act in this sort of situation. I assert that trying to decide which model does a bet­ter job of “explaining” is not simply a matter of looking at which fits better statistically. The second model should gain credence because of its greater face validity, which brings to bear, in an informal sense, other data.

Needless to say, one’s intuition is a personal thing. Judging models on the basis of their level of intuitive credibility is a risky business. One can be misled by models, especially when one is the creator of the model, and one is more prone to be misled the more complex the model is. Empirical verification should be more than an ideal to which one pays lip service; one should try honestly to construct (and even test) testable models. But intuition honestly applied is not worthless and should not be completely abandoned. Moreover, exercises can be performed to see what drives the conclusions of a model; examine how robust the results are to changes in specification and precise assumptions.

There is something of a “market test” here: one’s ability to convince others of one’s personal intuitive insights arising from specific models. Microeconomic theorists have a tendency to overresearch “fashionable” topics; insofar as they can be convinced by something because it is fash­ionable and not because it rings true, they are less than ideal for this mar­ket test. But less theoretically and more empirically inclined colleagues (and, sometimes even better, practitioners) are typically good and scepti­cal judges of the value of a particular model. Attempts to convince them, while sometimes frustrating, are usually helpful both to understand and improve upon a model.

The usefulness of falsified models

To push this even further, I would argue that sometimes a model whose predictions are clearly falsified is still useful. This can happen in at least three ways. First, insofar as one understands how the assumptions led to the falsified conclusions, one understands which assumptions don’t lead to the “truth.” Knowing what doesn’t work is often a good place to begin to figure out what does.

Second, theory building is a cumulative process. Under the presump­tion that most economic contexts share some fundamental characteristics, there is value in having models that conform to “generally accepted prin­ciples” that have served well in other contexts. Compared with a model that is radically different from standard models, a model that conforms to standard assumptions and principles will be better understood, both by the theory creator and by the audience. Moreover, unification of theory is valuable for its own sake to gain a better understanding of the shared char­acteristics. Of course, not all contexts are the same, and sometimes what economists think of as “generally acceptable and universally applicable principles” are pushed too far. Economists are well-known among social scientists as imperialists in the sense that economists attempt to reduce everything to economic notions and paradigms. But a real case still can be made for tradition and conservatism in the development of economic (and other) theory.

Granting this, when looking at an economic phenomenon that is poor­ly understood, economic theorists will attempt to build models that fit into the general rules of the discipline. Such attempts are rarely successful on the first trial. But insofar as first trials do lead to second and third trials, each of which gets one closer, the first trial is of value, and learning about another’s first trial may help you construct the second and third.’

Economists tell a parable about theory and theorists that relates to this. An economic theorist lost his wallet in a field by a road and proceeded to search futilely for the wallet in the road under the illumination of a street light on the grounds that “that is where the light is.” So, the folktale goes, it is with using theoretically “correct” but otherwise inappropriate theory. But an amendment to this tale is suggested by Jose Scheinkman: Without defending the actions of this particular theorist, perhaps one could try to construct a string of lights that begins in the road and that will eventually reach the field, on the grounds that the road is where electricity presently is found.

Third, and perhaps most subtly, models that fail to predict because they lack certain realistic features can still help clarify the analyst’s think­ing about the features they do encompass, as long as the analyst is able to combine intuitively and informally what has been omitted from the model with what has been learned from it. Of course, everything else held equal, it is “better” to have a model that captures formally more of the salient aspects of the situation than to have one that omits important features. But all else is rarely equal, and one shouldn’t preclude building intuition with models that make somewhat falsified assumptions or give somewhat fal­sified conclusions, as long as one can understand and integrate informally what is missing formally.


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A compilation/ list of public health textbooks from its inception till today

This is a placeholder post, to help me assess the evolving state of public health.

1873: Manual for medical officers of health by Edward Smith

1874: Manual of public health by Michael, William Henry, 1821-

1875: Manual of Public Health for Ireland by Thomas Wrigley Grimshaw

1884: Public health : the practical guide to the Public Health Act, 1875, and correlated acts, for the use of medical officers of health and inspectors of nuisances by Thomas Whiteside Hime.

1890: A manual of public health by Blyth, Alexander Wynter [also this.

1896: A manual of statutes of Connecticut relating to the public health by Connecticut.Laws, statutes, etc;

1900: A Treatise on Hygiene and Public Health by George H. Napheys

1902: A text-book of medical jurisprudence, toxicology and public health by John Glaister

1902: Principles of Sanitary Science and the Public Health by William T. Sedgwick [see 1911]

1902: Hygiene: a manual of personal and public health by Newsholme, Arthur, Sir

1905: Sanitary laws of Scotland and principles of public health : being a manual for county and burgh councillors, legal officials, medical officers of health, sanitary inspectors and all interested in public health by Brock, W. J.

1908: Manual of medical jurisprudence, toxicology and public health by by Robertson, W. G. Aitchison

1910: Principles of public health; a simple text book on hygiene, presenting the principles fundamental to the conservation of individual and community health
by Tuttle, Thomas Dyer

1910: A manual of public health law by Jacobs, Bertram

1911: Principles Of Sanitatary Science And The Public Health by Sedgwick, William T. [Many copies, perhaps 10+, avaialble on]

Undated: Sedgwick’s Principles Of Sanitary Science And Public Health by Horwood, Murray P.

1907: A Manual of Practical Hygiene by Edmund A. Parkes

1913: Preventive Medicine and Hygiene by Milton J. Rosenau 1913

1914: Legal principles of public health administration by Hemenway, Henry Bixby

1917: Outlines of hygiene and public health: for students, sanitary officers and practitioners by Ray, Rames Chandra

1917: Elements of hygiene and public health a textbook for students and practitioners of medicine by Porter, Charles, M.D

1920: Outlines of Public Health Work by Charles-Edward Amory Winslow

1920-39: A Synopsis of Hygiene by W. Wilson Jameson and G.S. Parkinson, with a section on Personal Hygiene by G.P. Crowden.

1921, 1927, 1933, 1945, 1950: Principles of Public Health Administration by Haven Emerson

1923, 1930: Textbook of Public Health by James Niven

1928: Principles of Public Health by Charles-Edward Amory Winslow

1935, 1947: Textbook of Preventive Medicine by James Niven

1946: Missouri public health manual. Control of communicable and other diseases dangerous to public health

1948: Manual of the laws relating to public health by Massachusetts, enacting jurisdiction

1948: Manual Of Public Health Hygiene by J.R. Currie

1967: Textbook of public health nursing

1969: Principles of public health administration by Hanlon, John J.  – also this.

1970: Public health and community medicine for the allied medical professions by Lloyd Edward Burton

1980: Manual of laws pertaining to public health, 1980 by Massachusetts.

1990: A Textbook of preventive medicine by J.J. McNeil et al

1997: Principles of public health practice by Scutchfield, F. Douglas

2003: Principles of public health practice by Scutchfield, F. Douglas; Keck, C. William

2008: Key Concepts in Public Health By Frances Wilson

2010: Principles & practice of public health surveillance by Lee, Lisa M

2014: Introduction to Community and Public Health By Manoj Sharma, Paul W. Branscum; Ashutosh Atri

2016: Scutchfield and Keck’s Principles of Public Health Practice By Paul C Erwin

2016: Public Health- A Very Short Introduction By Virginia Berridge

2016: Public Health and Epidemiology at a Glance By Margaret Somerville

2016: An Introduction to Community & Public Health by James F. McKenzie (2021: McKenzie’s An Introduction to Community & Public Health By Denise Seabert)

2016: Public Health and Epidemiology at a Glance, by Margaret Somerville; K. Kumaran; Rob Anderson

2019: Public Health: An Introduction to the Science and Practice of Population Health By James M. Shultz

2019: Introduction to Global Health by Kathryn H. Jacobsen

2020: Essentials of Public Health By Guthrie S. Birkhead

2020: Turnock’s Public Health By Guthrie S. Birkhead

2020: Introduction to Public Health by Mary-Jane Schneider

2020: Novick & Morrow’s Public Health Administration By Leiyu Shi

2020: Community Public Health in Policy and Practice by Sarah Cowley

2020: Epidemiology for Public Health Practice By Robert H. Friis

2020: Global Health by Kathryn Roberts

2021: Oxford Textbook of Global Public Health by Roger Detels, Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Fran Baum, Liming Li, Alastair H Leyland
2021: Maxcy-Rosenau-Last Public Health and Preventive Medicine By Matthew L. Boulton
2021: Population Health, Epidemiology, and Public Health Management Skills for Creating Healthy Communities, By Rosemary M. Caron
2022: Issues in Public Health: Challenges for the 21st Century By Martin McKee, Alison Krentel

2023: Introduction to Public Health by Mary Louise Fleming & Louise Baldwin

2023: The Public Health Approach -Population Thinking from the Black Death to COVID-19 By Alfredo Morabia

2024 and ongoing: Public Health Textbook by UK Faculty of PUblic Health.

Essentials of Public Health by Bernard J. Turnock

Public Health 101: Healthy People, Healthy Populations by Richard Riegelman and Brenda Kirkwood

Public Health: Power, Empowerment and Professional Practice by Glenn Laverack

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The 2014 communist manifesto of Public Health (Richard Horton et al)

Public health published a full-blown political “manifesto” in The Lancet in 2014, written by its editor, Richard Horton. This “medical” journal rightly called it a “manifesto” since it is indistinguishable from Marx’s Communist Manifesto or G.B. Shaw’s Fabian Manifesto.

This is a case of a so-called “scientific” discipline publishing a full-blown communist manifesto. And most of us were entirely unaware of it!

Who will lead the world to this glorious state of “planetary health” as per this manifesto? None other than public health, presumably led by Richard Horton the Marxist (I’ll discuss him separately in the next chapter, particularly his 2017 op-ed).

What exactly does the manifesto want? I’ve summarized its demands below:

  1. It has nothing to do with science, being repeatedly characterized as a “social movement”
  2. Overthrow “neoliberalism” (an “unjust global economic system” that must not be “tolerated”
  3. Stop production and progress: Progress is “dangerous”, there is “over-consumption”
  4. Public health will decide everything for us, as our “independent conscience”

– collective action led by public health

– “promote” health

– “foster” resilience

  1. Focus on equity and “social justice”
  2. People are stupid so their values must be “transformed”; in particular, we must “trust” public health.

This is in the public domain at The Lancet (you have to create an account). I’m sharing more widely with my annotations.

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