The “Dismal Science” and Getting Back to Da Vinci’s Methodology

“Make sure that the book on the Elements of Machines with its practice comes before the demonstration of motion and force of man and other animals, and by means of these you can prove all your propositions.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

One of the things that most bothers me about economics is the supposed need to intermingle the normative with the positive, ie, the descriptive with the prescriptive.  We see it in almost all modern schools of economics.  Austrian economists build an idea of a world they envision (mainly a gold standard) and design an understanding of the world largely based on what they want and not what we have.  Market Monetarists have done this recently with NGDP Targeting and their models that eliminate banking from our world.  I only single these schools out because they are obvious examples, but the entire profession is guilty of similar exercises.  I believe this is a flawed framework resulting in vast misunderstandings and flawed conclusions.  It need not be this way.

For instance, Leonardo Da Vinci isn’t best known for his influence on the field of medicine, but his influence was vast.  And what’s interesting about Da Vinci was his rather unusual approach to medicine.  Da Vinci did not expect to solve all the problems of the human body.  Rather, he wanted to understand the human body.

Da Vinci viewed the human body as a machine and as one of the first anatomists he was able to provide the world with a better understanding of how this machine functioned.  How its pieces worked together, how it was built, how it changed, etc.  To Da Vinci, it was all about finding out what IS, not what CAN be.  The real genius of Da Vinci in this approach was that he took a simple approach.  He knew that the understanding of the human body was poor and the only way he could better understand how it worked and what caused it to do certain things, was to figure out precisely how the machine worked.  And so he became one of the first true anatomists and provided the world with invaluable understanding of the machine.

The “dismal science” need not be so unscientific.  Unfortunately, most of its practitioners are trying to be Hippocrates and not Da Vinci.    And like the surgeons of the days of Hippocrates, they do not know how the system works and while they might believe they will “do no harm” they might as well be swinging an axe with their eyes closed….That’s bad news for the rest of us because the economic machine will never get cured so long as we continue to fail to understand how it actually works….

While I am far from a Da Vinci I do approach the world of economics from a similar position.  For whatever reason, I have never had a great deal of interest in solving the problems with our current system.  Some people criticize me for that (perhaps rightfully so), but I don’t see how we can fix the problems if we don’t even understand them.  Because of this, I am interested in better understanding how the machine works so that I can perhaps help spread an understanding to those who can solve problems with our current system.  It is my hope, through MR and a true focus on understanding how the system actually works, that we can provide as close as possible to a purely positive approach to economics.  I know this is a bold task, but through focusing on the understanding of the monetary system we can then provide others with a foundation from which our problems can be solved…..


Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering asset management, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services. He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance and Understanding the Modern Monetary System.

View all posts by

Leave a Reply

58 Comments on "The “Dismal Science” and Getting Back to Da Vinci’s Methodology"

Notify of

Your passion for understanding and teaching always rings true Cullen. Thanks for all you do. Keep up the good fight.