Why Economics do not understand business

It is the mid-1990s and the economics faculty at a leading business school is meeting. The assembled dons are in a prickly mood. Many are upset that business-school fields, such as marketing and organisational behaviour, enjoy a higher standing despite their apparent lack of rigour. That economics ought to command more respect is keenly felt. One professor can barely contain his scorn. Anyone with a good phd in economics, he declares, could comfortably teach in any of the school’s other departments.


It is tempting to see this as a story about the arrogance of economists. And in part, it is. The discipline’s imperialism—its tendency to claim the territory of fields adjacent to economics as its own—is a bugbear of social scientists. Yet the professor had a point. In the 1990s economics could plausibly claim to be moving towards a unified science of business. A realistic theory of the firm was in prospect. Alas, three decades on, it is no closer. Economics has rich models of competition and markets. But its powers still tend to falter once inside the factory gate or office building..