The Economist has a perceptive Economics Focus (sadly behind a paywall) on why economists pursue the kind of work they do (and George Soros’s new Institute for New Economic Thinking). I particularly liked this bit:
… David Colander… expressed his dissatisfaction with decades of economics by invoking a lofty analogy. He felt macroeconomists had clawed their way up a mountain, only to discover, when they broke through the clouds, that a neighbouring mountain would have taken them higher…
The twin peaks image has [an]… unsettling, implication. To get from one peak to the other, economists will have to lose a lot of altitude first. To tackle questions in a fresh way, they may have to set aside many of their favourite techniques and methods. This prospect probably explains a lot of the resistance to new economic thinking. Economists tend to cling to whatever assumptions are required to use the techniques they favour.
For example… the much-maligned figure of rational economic man, maximising his utility, is less an article of faith than an excuse to use calculus.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.