Over the last few days, I’ve read a number of objections to economic models (most written by non-economists, but a few by economists). These objections follow some pattern of “models are too static. The ceteris is never paribus! Therefore, your objection to Policy X on the basis of Model Y is invalid! Such and such could occur!”
While true the ceteris is never paribus (in other words, not all other conditions are held the same), that objection doesn’t address the point of economic models. Certainly anything is possible. It’s possible that, following a minimum wage hike, there is no negative impact on low-skilled labor. It’s possible that protectionism could lift domestic well-being. But economic models aren’t designed to capture all that’s possible. They’re meant to indicate what is probable. When a price floor (like minimum wage) is enacted, it is possible it has no negative effect, but it is probable it will.
To this end, models provide the good economist with insight into proposed policy solutions. It’s difficult to predict with absolute certainty the outcome of a given policy given the Hayekian knowledge problem, but being able to make general predictions based upon probable outcomes allows us to advise against bad solutions to problems.