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Questions – Add Your Voice

from Peter Radford

There’s been a lot of excitement about changing the substance of economics and the way it is taught. Rightly so. But that, it seems to me, just begs the question: “What is economics?” Or, rather, it begs a series of questions. None of us can pretend to have the answer since the answer is surely to be found in the collective voice of those who are interested enough to respond. Social intelligence is a more robust repository of ‘truth’ than any single intelligence can ever be.


What are the questions? Tell me.

Once we have a good set of questions, let’s then survey our friends and colleagues to get answers. Oh. And let’s restrict ourselves to limited space. Those answers must be short. Let’s say a few paragraphs at the very most.

Once we have the questions and all the answers we can assemble them as a collective voice.

A hundred or so answers to, say, fifteen good questions would give us a very quick but deep insight into the state of economics.

Let’s not place any limits on ourselves just yet – other than the need for brevity.

So go ahead. Add your voice to the collective.


  1. February 24, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    How will future economists solve the riddle of a gently declining population and intensity of commercial activity resulting from commitment to complete education of all people to whatever level they choose?

  2. Ack Nice
    February 24, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    GK Chesterton the British liberal and populist, argued that the only place a practical politician could start was with the ideal. Any other commencement of the political journey invites the creation of illogical and unsatisfactory remedies. The ideal provides a constant and necessary navigational marker from which one can compute a compromise’s true cost in distance and time. Without such a marker, a purposeful trip becomes mere random motion. In politics, this can — over the years — produce directionless compromises lumped upon each other leaving us finally, with a system that nobody wanted.

    Is this true for the practical economist and economics, too? And is the ideal that world wealth be spread as equally as world work is spread since only work creates the wealth being divided?

  3. Macrocompassion
    February 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    The subject of economics is divided into a number of sub-subjects such as microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics, history of economics thought, economic history itself, the various current schools (attitudes about) of teaching economics, etc. I think the greatest difficulty with our subject is about the way that macroeconomics is to be understood, so this is what the following discusses.

    Macroeconomics is about the production and distribution of wealth and the use of money to achieve this, as well as the control of the social system by government and/or other agencies. The most basic axioms which define the subject are that Man seeks to satisfy his unlimited needs with the least exertion. These two conflicting trends are what give this subject its true nature, a combination of suppliers and consumers.

    The trouble, as noted above, is that many experts have an agenda or aim for putting over the part of this subject which most concerns them. Since this subject is so broad, it is not at all difficult to express generally the way of answering, so as to cover some of their specific claims within the other treatments of the parts of the whole. For the reason that it is hard to take an over-view of the whole subject at first, many students never seem to have a good grasp about what it is really all about, although they do have the ability to answer certain questions. This allows them to pass examinations and to qualify. However, today the current kind of student is becoming aware of the failings of the syllabus. What they seek generally is to be less specific or detailed, at least during their first years of study.

    Other kinds of complaints are about the content of the subject. I seem to see quite often the complaint that economics is not sufficiently scientific. Particularly on the subject of theoretical macroeconomics there are answers, one of which I offer, does at last cover the whole field whilst being comprehensive to sufficient degree about most of the details. So I suggest that your seekers after truth should examine the model for presenting the whole social system that I have mentioned here, namely: Wikimedia, Commons, Macroeconomics: DiagFuncMacroSyst.pdf
    This will also soon be found with a full description, in my about to be published book: “Consequential Macroeconomics — Rationalizing About Our Social System Works”. Here at last there is a development of the 3 production factor model that Adam Smith first described and with the exception of David Ricardo, nobody seemed to want to continue with, and several subsequently chose to spoil and confuse the later thinking.

  4. paul davidson
    February 24, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    why does the operation of a money-using, market-oriented economy require the use of money contracts to organize all market oriented transactions?

  5. Anon
    February 24, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Is it possible to define money as equity instead of debt?

    If capital wasn’t scarce, would interest rates cease to exist?

    Does the current P2P development, as seen by the explosion in crowd-funding businesses, take us near the theoretical economic world of the mainstream?

    If the ratio of asset inflation to the CPI would be semi-constant because of credit management, would that exclude boom and busts?

    Is there anything as a capitalist system without booms and busts?

  6. John McDonald
    February 24, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    “Let’s not place any limits on ourselves just yet – other than the need for brevity.”

    What makes for a better economy? (A question of values – philosophical and theological.)
    How does an economy link/function with nature?

  7. anmayhew
    February 24, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    What are the patterns of acquiring the material means of living in various societies?

  8. Marko
    February 25, 2015 at 12:02 am

    Most non-economists know little about economics and care even less. On the other hand , those non-economists who do care and are reasonably intelligent can see that what passes for mainstream economics today is a farce – a fable constructed from whole cloth for the sole purpose of preserving the status-quo income/wealth/power structure. So my question is :

    Who , exactly , do economists think they’re fooling ?

  9. February 25, 2015 at 3:31 am

    If 97% of money is created by both traditional and central banks out of “thin air”, then what prevents “basic income for all” – in the same way, created out of “thin air” – from becoming a reality on Earth?

  10. February 25, 2015 at 9:58 am

    How to study economies as networks, not scalars? Economies are complex. A market is not a price regulator of a few commodities. It’s a vibrant bazaar that connects millions of incomparable producers and consumers, who cannot individually envision the role or needs filled by their goods. Economics is about ensuring the flow of value through the network, not the accumulation of quantities by a few participants. Economy is about flow and complexity. Let’s embrace this.

  11. February 25, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    Do you find this likely true?
    The MAIN ENABLER of sizable asset price bubbles is keeping the real price histories rarely seen by the people?
    For example:

  12. davetaylor1
    February 25, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    1. What is economics? [It is NOT – qua Humpty Dumpty – “what economists (now) say it is”: Peter’s “the collective voice of those interested enough to respond”. It is either an example of something more fundamental (e.g. a science, with its distinct philosophical, knowledge acquisition and demonstrative teaching phases), or “it is (about) what it does”, which is real and evolving: NOT a mere balancing of dishonest monetary measures of supply and demand of unspecified goods by covertly printing IOUs. Peter (trained as an economist rather than a scientist or philosopher of science), is wrong at the level of philosophy, where Hume (1740) chose to deny God and restrict science to what could be measured and agreed on, whereas in practice it has been about inventing ways of seeing what previously we have not been able to see – not just telescopes and microscopes but methods: the ancient teaching method of story-telling to make insights imaginable, Aristotle’s family tree of discoveries and Bacon’s taking things to bits to see how they worked (the first fruits of which were – significantly for economics – Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood WITHIN ITS ARTERIAL SYSTEM). Theory tells us where to look, not what we will find, hence mathematics as “techniques of learning”. Hume’s statistical democracy points us to what can usually be seen, so can be taught – even when appearances are deceptive, ambiguous or buried in garbage, as is the case with the circulation of money].

    2. What should the word ‘economics’ stand for? [Household management, from its etymology and as about people living together; theoretically, an economy IS an information based PID control system, more or less complete, with that as its aim].

    3. What should the word ‘economics’ NOT be used for? [Money making, or marketing, which is properly called ‘chrematistics’. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrematistics%5D.

    4. Why is ‘chrematistics’ now being called ‘economics’, so that household management is ignored? [Because, after Henry VIII (see Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Act 1 scene 3, the entry of Antonio) – and William III (pensioned off in exchange for control of government by the City of London’s usurious Bank of England), Hume’s friend Adam Smith was SEEING it as about the (monetary) wealth of nations, not the well-being of all mankind. In short, because the Shylocks who are paying the pipers are calling the tune].

    5. What is the purpose of an economist? [From 1. it depends on whether his aim is scientific, teaching or advising on application; but the content should be scientific].

    I would like to appreciate, in particular, Garrett’s question, Macrocompassion’s “first-cut” systems analysis, John’s link with nature and Ack Nice’s Chestertonian argument at the philosophical level, all of which I have addressed with the aid of Chestertonian insight and a Baconian scientific method – i.e. of taking evolution to bits to see how it and my knowing about it work – and what can I see changing as I reconstruct it. The evolution of ways of entry and communication of both energy and information within normally closed systems culminated in our arterial and switchable neural systems and electrically powered information technology, e.g. in similar time-sharing computer-directed PID control systems in which the D (for Differential) dimension is ultimately controlled by us just so long as we use distinguishable information – not power – to do the controlling.

    So, Garrett’s unsustainable commercial activity goes away if money is understood as a liability rather than a gain (i.e. a credit spent rather than a good to possess). Ack’s ideal households have to allow for what the wonderfully insightful but pre-electronic, childless Chesterton did not see: circuits being fundamental and people having to grow up as well as differing. Macrocompassion’s system model is only of the structure of what we have now, before we have seen how to reduce it to Codd’s unambiguous fifth level of “normal form”. John Mc’s link with nature is like us and our economy being the most significant digit in an arabic number form, with (living) nature and its ecology being the second-most significant digit, and part and parcel of us.

    Peter, I repeat, has got it wrong. The answer is not to be FOUND in a collective voice, though IF FOUND it is desirable it is taught that way. When the existing common voice is failing to satisfy, the more DIFFERENT contributions one is prepared to consider, the more likely one is to find new – so probably unique – contributions, being drowned out by the existing common voice, that see not only through superficialities and untruths but through theoretical problems that for generations have left almost everyone else looking in the wrong place. Mine is not “the answer”, indeed, for a philosophical answer involves pragmatic choice; but it is a mathematically defensible, elegantly systematic, minimally complex and scientifically revealing foundation for one.

    • davetaylor1
      February 28, 2015 at 10:09 am

      It seems Peter has taken exceptionn to the above, so what could I have said differently? Having slept on it, let me make explicit what what was obvious to me, but perhaps not to other people: I usually enjoy his essays and was enthusiastically supporting this project. What I was taking exception to was his “leader” on where to look for answers, which not only ruled out my own hard-won contributions but was dynamically self-defeating: if you like, putting the cart before the horse.

      In any case, if Peter has understood my disagreement with him as a personal affront, I’m sorry, and apologise for my clumsiness in his being able to. As I was brought up to “love the sinner, hate the sin”, that was never intended.

  13. larrykaz
    February 27, 2015 at 2:31 am

    What is public purpose and how can government monetary and fiscal policy help achieve it?

    • blocke
      February 27, 2015 at 7:39 am

      Government policies that advance the commonwealth, not the specific wealth of privileged group. It is not hard to figure out which policies do what. An example of government policy that advanced the commonwealth was the GI bill of rights. Try to identify those policies that do not.

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