After almost 3 years of blogging to a reduced audience, I observed a sudden spike in my stats after my post about the UMKC conference got re-blogged (or re--tweeted, who knows) in the legendarily active econo blogosphere. So I thought I should ride the wave and elaborate on my remarks.
First of all, as pointed out by a commenter, I only attended the last day of the conference, which according to the unwritten laws of scheduling was
bound to be the least exciting (especially on a Saturday!). I guess I should expect that - after all that was the spot on the schedule reserved for me... But still,
after being blown away by the vibrance and intellectual rigour of the likes of Stephanie Kelton and Scott Fulwiller when I met them at Fields a few months ago, I had great
expectations about the event, and was disappointed to find out that most of the people I wanted to meet had already left (his lordship notwithstanding).
But on a more substantive note, I see from the comments (here and elsewhere), that the role of mathematics in economics is a bit of a raw nerve, hence the urge to elaborate.
Despite being a mathematician, I do not think that mathematical modelling is the most important part of economics, but I do think that it is somewhat essential. Here I'm reminded of the famous
saying that "logic is to mathematics what hygiene is to life: it's clearly essential, but not what it's all about". The same goes for mathematics and economics: historical awareness, acute observations, and empirical plausibility come first in economic reasoning, but I don't see how much progress can be made without mathematics. Notice that this is not about pedagogy, but about being able to even formulate crucial statements.
To borrow from other fields, it would be nearly impossible to even conceptualize something like the basic reproductive number in epidemiology without a mathematical model, and this means the difference between being able to handle a pandemic or not. For another example, no amount of analogy or logical thinking can pinpoint the phenomenon of bifurcations. The fact that smooth changes in some underlying parameter can cause a system to completely change its qualitative behaviour is not something that is predicated by logic and hard thinking alone - it needs mathematics. Needless to say, the list could go on and on.
Finally, just in case you associate mathematics too heavily with neoclassical economics, remember that the final blow to general equilibrium was dealt by a mathematical result: the SMD theorems essentially tell us that the whole framework (and much of neoclassical economics with it) is only guaranteed to work for the trivial case of one agent and one good.