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Beware of Economists Peddling Elegant Models

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Mathematics can be beguilingly elegant. It can also be dangerous when people mistake its elegance for truth.

Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity might be the best example of elegant math, capturing a wide range of subtle and surprising phenomena with remarkable simplicity. Step toward the practical, though, and physics moves quickly away from elegance to makeshift usefulness. There’s no pretty expression for the operation of a nuclear reactor, or for how air flows past the swept wings of an aircraft. Understanding demands ugly approximations, or brute-force simulation on a large computer.