Friday, January 1, 2010

What is common between a mechanic and an economic modeller

Economic modelling is very much similar to the habits of Mr. Chanchar played by Aamir Khan in the movie - "3 Idiots" that released very recently. As a passionate follower of Bollywood films and music, I have always drawn my inspiration to get new ideas from Bollywood films. So one week back when I saw Aamir unbundling the parts of a machine and creating new things out of it, immediately felt that Aamir is representing many people like us who try to model out intuitions for policy relevant works which is about unbundling out indicators relevant to policy making and then coming up with intuitive explanations (although many time I fail in doing that). Like Mr. Chanchar economic modellers also fail in the process of unbundling, reconstructing new things (new intuitive explanation) from the social facts around us (like the freeze that will come out because of loose screws).

The machine parts that Aamir was unbundling and fitiing are similar to the variables, indicators that we select. So if Aamir plans to use the battery of car to make an inverter called "virus", we also try to pick up variables from in and around us as explanatory variable to explain certain outcome variables (independent). The way Aamir as a mechanic fits the components and creates a new entity, we also try to find out explanatory variables and fit them through equational relationship to explain some intuition. The beauty of the subject, exercise is increased when we try to do the job of a mechanic to explain some policy relevant intuitions. The job of the economic modeller becomes exactly like a mechanic where a modeller has to struggle with the right set of explanatory variables and the functional relationship to explain the practical realities of policy relevant problems. Like a mechanic, the modeller has to keep on trying in the search of the variables (like the chips, inputs in a machine) and then has to fit them properly to create a system (a machine) that explains a realistic policy relevant intuition. I must say, most of the time when we do policy relevant modelling we struggle to create a system that could explain this relationship. Whereas a machine well constructed by Aamir in the film "3 idiots" was always having an objective of helping the mankind and change the society, we struggle to create a system that meaningfully explains the relationships and intuitions in and around the society that are dealt by various policies. May be this uncertainty of the subject makes the job of an economic modeller more struggling, exciting and creative. So a good modeller like a good mechanic has to be a craftsperson to see the explanatory relationship between the intuitions that we as modellers test. So the classes of economic modelling should be in the lines of Mr. Chanchar who used to influence his friends to create and construct machines for the purpose of contributing to the human cause. So for us in the subject of social science (as I think economics as a subject is more close to social science than mathematics) to become a good modeller, the first job is to find out the right question. Then, to test the question we need to be in the field and learn from the field about the right set of relationship and then one can get back in the lab and fit the appropriate (or best available) set of the data, equations to see how well the relationship holds. The fun is when the model explains the relationship and as a modeller you get a pleasure that the realities are produced in the lab. The joy is almost similar to creating a life through artificial reproduction techniques of biological science in the lab. But why am I saying all these.

Because once I started working after completing post graduation from university in 2004, I actually started learning what does an economic model entail. The learning taught me that policy relevant economic modelling is all about asking interesting questions and then trying to explore all kinds of variables and relationships that can explain the answer to some extent to the questions. Such questions should be collected and asked by seeing anything around us that happens in our day to day life. Many equations that I never understood way back in 2003, 2004 became much clearer once I was able to see the effective representations of such equations in the working life. So why dont we create and have an education system post higher secondary that instigates students to ask the right question and then explore it through a relationship in their respective subjects. May be then we could have more real fun loving economic modellers in our system at the age of 23, 24 who could explain the realities of social science in a much humanly way through equations explaining the the human and real intuition and not the maths . Then all of them would say like the 2 idiots of the 3 idiots - "Baba Shyamaldas Chanchar" - Aapka modelling really great hai.

Just to put forward more discussion on the subject - Let me pose a research question and lets all discuss what could be a modelling approach to test the research question like the mechanic - Mr. Chanchar of "3 idiots".

A) What is the effect of giving an industry status to Bollywood on the social indicators (like income, societal status, family relationships, positive emotions, happiness) of middle class budding film directors (say who have atleast done graduation - remember Ramgopal Verma, Anurag Kashyap who came from a non film family and a non film background) who could now get access to the industry?

Waiting for a modelling approach like a mechanist from all lovers of the fun generating aspects of social science -

Till then

Geek (Anando)

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