Ali Wyne lets eight young to mid-career stars in economics tell us about the future of economics for a popular, wonkish audience. So, befitting the genre it is full of largely self-serving cliches, but I still found it revealing. (Much to my surprise I was familiar with the work of three stars.) Bottom line: due to low cost computing and a data rich environment the future of economics is data-mining (this was clear from at least four of the comments). This is especially so because the young stars have lost faith in homo economicus (due to behavioral work and the crisis). Let me add three more observations.
First, if data-mining is the future, any person with access to data and sophisticated statistical technology can displace the trained economist as top policy dog (including their poor cousins, the sociologists!) One of my favorite economists, Justin Wolfers, believes that economics will remain top dog because "Economic theory will become a tool we use to structure our investigation of the data." (And economic theory is superior to its competitors.) But in light of the foregoing that is wishful thinking--the reason why economics is turning to data-mining is because economic theory is after sixty years not perceived the fruitful driver of research anymore. (Historical aside: In "Measurement without Theory," Koopmans convinced the economics profession after a famous debate with the now-forgotten Vining that if they want to be the preferred policy-scientists they could not rely on such pure induction. [Recall my post here.])
Second, no doubt such massive data-mining will prove illuminating in lots of ways. But after spending nearly two decades reflecting on evidential strategies in complex environments, I was skeptical of the significance of this prediction: "I am especially optimistic that the expansion of access to large administrative datasets, such as earnings data from social-security records or student-achievement data from school districts, will yield sharp, quasi-experimental evidence that allows us to test theories and estimate key parameters of economic models." (Raj Chetty, who at age 33 apparently has a secretary and is extremely well connected in the profession and in DC!) Let's grant this for the model-worlds, but there is little reason to think it will be true of the modelled-world. For there we lack knowledge of (a) what the key parameters are and (b) if these remain the same over time. (After nearly a century of research, Milton Friedman once wrote me that he still had no idea how to craft a research strategy to set about explaining why long-run real interests rates hover around 3% since the 17th century.) This is why Weyl's prediction that "information technology" will "provide increasingly precise and accurate prescriptions for economic planning" is techocratic bluff. Medicine has been data-mining for a bit longer (and with better background knowledge) and the flood of new medicines has not materialized yet.
Third, among economists under sixty the aforementioned Glen Weyl passes for being an intellectual (see here) because he is interested in past economists. And, indeed, he quotes a famous paper by Hayek (incidentally one I mentioned last week.) But without apparently realizing it, Weyl rediscovers Oskar Lange's famous response to Hayek, but Lange could not appeal to netflix. (On Lange, see here.) Weyl also says (I am not making this up) "Others, who value the libertarian tradition that has often been associated with economics, will be forced to articulate other arguments [in favor of the "market economy"], perhaps based on privacy, that are not susceptible to erosion by the increasing power of centralized computation." Now libertarianism is a beautiful American tradition, but for most of its life-time it members have (rightly) complained that economists are ignoring its collective wisdom! (I'll let others reflect on the merits of the argument from privacy in the age of Patriot act.) I apologize for the sarcasm, but it is really scary how utterly ignorant young incrowd economists are of their own past and anything related to associated disciplines.
Finally, you might also ask: who is Ali Wyne, and how does he get to decide who are "the world’s top young economists" [all of them Stateside]? He seems to be a product of Cambridge, MA, and lots of foundation money.