PCT and economics.

[From Bill Powers (2004.01.25.-839 MST)]
David Goldstein (2004.01.25.2211 EST) –
Thanks to you and others for taking my side in the arguments with Bill
Williams, but I think the answer to all this is to try to stick to
economics as a subject and pull loose from the ad hominem blasts. I can
feel the temptation very strongly, and have succumbed to it to a very
limited degree (no one will ever know how limited), but this is not going
to get us anywhere. Bill is not going to reform just because someone
tells him to.
For the record, I didn’t like my father much for a good part of his life,
but I respected his scientific abilities, and toward the end, while he
was doing the last 10 years of revisions on Leakage, we achieved a
sort of truce. I refrained from criticisms that I knew would send his
blood pressure off the scale, and corrected mistakes in mathematics
(which he somehow was able to accept from me). I could not get him to
accept that understanding human agency might be important for economics
(he said “individual preferences have nothing to do with
economics!” He also called my work on control theory “Stewing
in your own juice”).
I think there are many aspects of Leakage that are valuable
contributions, such as his careful conceptions of composite entities. I
don’t think that his concept of the circular flow was any more helpful
than the sources he got it from, and there was considerable arm-waving
involved in explaining how certain things happened (especially where
money came from). The idea of leakage, I think, is nowhere near as
important as he thought it was, and is partly dependent on assuming a
fixed and fictitious “potential growth rate,” but at least he
made steps toward a quantitative model based on differential equations,
and he paid far closer attention to historical data than I have seen
elsewhere. I was embarrassed by his “Advice to the president”

I defend the parts of TCPs work I agree with and ignore the rest –
what’s the point of arguing with a dead man, unless someone else still
believes him? I’ve always been interested in economics, and have long
felt that control theory could tell us a lot, but I really held off for a
long time to avoid competing with my father. I knew he could do some
things better than I, such as absorbing very large amounts of the
economics literature, but I knew that I could do some things better than
he could, such as modeling, and I knew he would never be able to tolerate
that. There was plenty else to keep me busy. After he died, I felt free
to take my own approach, and to some extent have done so. I have defended
his work against slander, but other than that do not buy it as a

In his last year, a few years after he had suffered a stroke and was
confined to a wheel-chair, Mary and I visited several times, to buy some
furniture for his barren rooms in the retirement home (he didn’t see the
point) and give him some moral support. During our last visit, he looked
up at me from his wheelchair with tears in his eyes, and tried to tell me
something – his speech was quite severaly limited. I got "Bill, I
want you to know – feel remorseful – ". I said “Dad, I know.
It’s all right. There is nothing to be sorry about.” And a few other
things that I don’t remember. He nodded and relaxed and could say nothing
further. A few months later he was found dead, sitting in his wheelchair
in the hall of the nursing home.

So I do defend the old man, but not just because he was my father – that
wasn’t much of a recommendation. He was a man who did his best, as we all
do, and what he did that was good should be appreciated, not distorted
and misrepresented by some pompous ass who can’t even read.


Bill P.