In This Review

Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be
Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be
By Diane Coyle
272 pp, Princeton University Press, 2021

Although the practice of economics is widely criticized, too many critics oversimplify what economists do or fail to appreciate how the discipline is changing. With her background in government, consulting, and academia, Coyle offers a better-informed critique. Economists, she shows, understand the limitations of their models; a growing amount of their research is devoted to analyzing big data as opposed to abstract theory; and they increasingly interact with those in other disciplines. Too often, however, economists forget that they are part of the system they are analyzing and that their work can affect its operation—as, for example, academic work on finance has affected the organization of financial markets, and not always for the better. Economists also ignore the tendency for their findings to be oversimplified when applied to policy, sometimes with counterproductive consequences. They sometimes fail to ask whether their familiar statistical and conceptual categories still apply in today’s digital world. And they have a diversity problem: the profession lacks not just intellectual range but also the ethnic, racial, and gender balance that would enrich the field.