Talking about vs. doing economics
from David Ruccio
In attacking Austrian economics (and other schools of heterodox economics), John Quiggin invokes the mainstream distinction between talking about economics—so-called meta-issues—and doing economics.
A focus on meta-issues is a characteristic problem for heterodox schools of all kinds, but Austrian economics takes it to an absurd extreme. At some point, surely, they need to stop worrying about methodology and history of thought and start actually doing some economics.
Leaving aside the obvious silliness of worrying about epistemology in the context of a massive financial crisis. . .
Such a position is exactly what mainstream economists pronounce, since they have little use for such topics as history of economic thought, economic methodology, epistemology, and so on. Little use, at least officially, but of course they invoke such topics all the time: in their obsession with science and formal methods, in presuming that economic agents have full and certain knowledge, in presenting contemporary economics as an “improvement” over previous economic discourses, and so on.
Quiggins fails to understand that such “meta-issues” are crucial, in at least three senses: First, they’re central to Austrian economic theory, in that the Austrian economic agents have limited and local knowledge. Second, all heterodox economists have an interest in undermining the hegemony of mainstream economics and creating a space for alternative theories—and addressing topics such as epistemology, methodology, and the history of economic thought is a way of doing that. Finally, those topics ARE central to a discussion of the current crises of capitalism, precisely because the hegemonic theories (within both academic and everyday economics) created the conditions—of inequality, financial speculation, and so on—that led to the crisis.
In short, what Quiggin seems not to be able to understand is that talking about economics IS doing economics.