Digital technology, big data, big tech, machine learning, and AI are revolutionizing both the tools of economics and the phenomena it seeks to measure, understand, and shape. In Cogs and Monsters, Diane Coyle explores the enormous problems—but also opportunities—facing economics today and examines what it must do to help policymakers solve the world’s crises, from pandemic recovery and inequality to slow growth and the climate emergency.
Mainstream economics, Coyle says, still assumes people are “cogs”—self-interested, calculating, independent agents interacting in defined contexts. But the digital economy is much more characterized by “monsters”—untethered, snowballing, and socially influenced unknowns. What is worse, by treating people as cogs, economics is creating its own monsters, leaving itself without the tools to understand the new problems it faces. In response, Coyle asks whether economic individualism is still valid in the digital economy, whether we need to measure growth and progress in new ways, and whether economics can ever be objective, since it influences what it analyzes. Just as important, the discipline needs to correct its striking lack of diversity and inclusion if it is to be able to offer new solutions to new problems.
Filled with original insights, Cogs and Monsters offers a road map for how economics can adapt to the rewiring of society, including by digital technologies, and realize its potential to play a hugely positive role in the twenty-first century.
Awards and Recognition
- Financial Times Best Economics Book of the Year 2021
- A CapX Book of the Year
- Winner of the Gold Medal in Business Commentary, Axiom Business Book Awards
Diane Coyle is the Bennett Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. Her books include GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters, and The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (all Princeton). She lives in London. Twitter @DianeCoyle1859
"Eloquent. . . . Thought-provoking."—Felix Martin, Financial Times
"Coyle’s contribution is valuable. The book reads like a timely intervention delivered by a perceptive friend, in the kindest tone they can muster. Economists would do well to listen.
"—James Plunkett, Prospect
"[Coyle] is extremely wise, and the best friend economics could have—one willing to offer some serious tough love."—Tim Harford, timharford.com
"Full of illuminating anecdotes about the gap between theory and practice."—Simon Torracinta, Boston Review
"An inspiring read for those developing, using or seeking to understand economics in a rapidly changing world."—Dr Anna Valero, London School of Economics Blog
“Diane Coyle is one of the world’s most perceptive thinkers and writers on the role of economics in solving today’s problems. Cogs and Monsters explains, compellingly and lucidly, why economics, while far from perfect, matters more than ever, not just to our economies but to our societies.”—Andy Haldane, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce
“In a profession that is not known for critical self-reflection, Diane Coyle stands out. As she points out in this masterful book, economics’ foes often base their case on strawmen that miss the profession’s true failings. Coyle offers as much a defense of sensible economics as a critique of some of its unproductive habits, and shows the way forward to a useful economics for an increasingly digital economy.”—Dani Rodrik, Harvard University
“Wherever you stand on the policy debate about digital platforms, this book is a great read. It is stronger for being set in the context of the more general questions of ‘What should an economist do?’ and ‘What types of analysis and insights should an economist offer?’ Given the degree of policy interest in the topic of digital technology, and the lack of voice that economists often have in that debate, I found the book both useful and interesting.”—Catherine Tucker, MIT Sloan School of Management