“In order to tell the politicians and practitioners something about causes and best means, the economist needs the true theory or else he has not much more to offer than educated common sense or his personal opinion.” (Stigum)
The fact of the matter is that economists do NOT have the true theory. More precisely, economists do not know how the price- and profit mechanism works. The four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent, and all got profit wrong.#1 With the pluralism of provable false theories economics sits squarely at the proto-scientific level.
The representative economist either does not realize it or cannot officially admit it. In this dire situation, the Pavlovian reaction is always and everywhere to muddy the waters and to retreat deeper into the swamp. Noah Smith is no exception, he rhetorically asks: “What the heck is a ‘science’?” and answers “No one knows.”
This is patently false. Science is, since the ancient Greeks made the distinction between opinion (= doxa) and knowledge (= episteme), well-defined by material and formal consistency: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant)
First question to Noah Smith: if no one knows what science is how does it come that we have a prize with the title “Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”.#2 And how does it come that economics is since Adam Smith/Karl Marx explicitly defined as science? And what does every economist learn in Econ 101?: “Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” (Robbins)
Fact is that economics claims to be a science but is what Feynman called a cargo cult science: “They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. ... But it doesn’t work. ... So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential.”
What is missing is the true theory. Economics is a failed science because none of the four main approaches satisfies the criteria of material and formal consistency. When this is pointed out economists immediately retract and fire their barrage of brain-dead excuses.#3 Noah Smith applies the same old defense maneuvers. Needless to emphasize that every single of these excuses has been refuted long ago.
Economists have found a way to deal with the problem of manifest failure: they simply ignore and violate scientific standards. Or, as Blaug put it, they are playing tennis with the net down. Morgenstern reminded his fellow economists back in 1941: “In economics we should strive to proceed, wherever we can, exactly according to the standards of the other, more advanced, sciences, where it is not possible, once an issue has been decided, to continue to write about it as if nothing had happened.”
This is why Walrasianism is still around although it has already been dead in the cradle 140+ years ago. Standard economics has been based on provable false axioms but economists proudly cling to them until this day: “most of what I and many others do is sorta-kinda neoclassical because it takes the maximization-and-equilibrium world as a starting point.” (Krugman) Note in passing that maximization and equilibrium are NONENTITIES like angels or the Easter Bunny. Time for Krugman and the rest to end stubborn self-delusion: all equilibrium models are a priori false and this starts with textbook supply-demand-equilibrium.#4
Economics is a failed science because economists (i) are scientifically incompetent, and (ii), violate scientific standards/ethics on a daily basis. Since Adam Smith economic policy guidance never had sound scientific foundations. Both, orthodox and heterodox economists sell proto-scientific rubbish in the bluff package of science.
In order to become a science, economics needs a paradigm shift.#5 Nothing less will do.
#1 See ‘First Lecture in New Economic Thinking’
#2 See ‘The real problem with the economics Nobel’
#3 See ‘Failed economics: The losers’ long list of lame excuses’
#4 See also ‘The father of modern economics and his imbecile kids’
#5 See also ‘The identification problem and the dumping of the old guard’
For details of the bigger picture see cross-references Incompetence
You argue: “It’s certainly, by a long shot, the most scientific of the social sciences.”
Your lethal methodological blunders are:
(i) The underlying binary code of science is true/false with NOTHING in between. Because of this, economics is either a science or not. The statement, economics is more scientific than X, is entirely devoid of meaning. (Just like the statement, Jake Thompson is by a long shot more innocent than Lee Harvey Oswald. Guilty/not guilty is also binary with NOTHING in between.)
(ii) Scientific truth is well-defined by material and formal consistency. It is not an easy task to establish scientific truth but from these practical difficulties cannot be concluded that it does not exist or that anything goes.
(iii) The four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and all got the pivotal economic concept profit wrong.
Conclusion: Economics is NOT a science.
In order to rise above the proto-scientific level, economics needs a paradigm shift.#1 What failed economists first of all have to understand is that economics is NOT a social science but a system science. To define economics as a social science has been the foundational blunder 200+ years ago. Being scientifically incompetent, though, economists will not understand this. It’s Catch 22 and the representative economist is trapped in the scientific coal-pit.#2
#1 For details see ‘Redefining economics’ and cross-references Paradigm shift
#2 “... but when the road ends at a coal-pit, he [the traveler] doesn’t need much judgment to know that he has gone wrong, and perhaps to find out what has led him astray.” (Hume) Obviously, you lack even this tiny quantity of judgement.
You argue: “Some parts of Econ are a science (game theory and I’d argue basic macro in simple markets) while the rest is more of an art (everything else).”
You are trying to evade a clear-cut conclusion and your argument is way beside the point.
(i) Economics is either a science or not. That parts of it are acceptable is irrelevant. Every false theory has acceptable parts. Even the flat earth theory has some content that is true. False theories are always partially and commonsensically true. This is exactly why they can survive.
(ii) Game theory is NOT economics because economics does not deal with human behavior but with the behavior of the economic system. Economics is a system science and all Human Nature/behavior issues belong to psychology, sociology, anthropology and so on. To define economics as a social science has been the foundational blunder 200+ years ago.
(iii) Basic macro is provable false.*
(iv) To call economics an art is simply an euphemism.
The conclusion is inescapable: Economics is NOT a science.
* For details see ‘Textbooks and the mental cloning of dumb economists’ and ‘Why Post Keynesianism Is Not Yet a Science’