Home > New vs. Old Paradigm > To see is to believe?

To see is to believe?

from Peter Radford

The French Republican thinker Charles Péguy once said:

“One must always say what one sees. But especially — and this is the hard part — one must always see what one sees.”

Very true.

The ability to see something and not see it simultaneously seems to be a major characteristic of orthodox economists.

Thus involuntary unemployment melts into thin air as its offensive existence is not only offensive to civility, but is, more importantly, offensive to the ideological basis of orthodoxy. For if markets always exert their magical powers, and if the people caught up within them act [hyper] rationally, and if, and so on and so on, then anyone without a job is someone who doesn’t want a job. That person prefers a life of leisure to one of work, no matter how impecunious they are.

That orthodox economists must see involuntary unemployment is surely undeniable. That they don’t see it because of the jaundice of orthodoxy that afflicts them is, I think Péguy would agree, an affront to reality.

Likewise with uncertainty:

Those of us not suffering from the jaundice of orthodoxy understand only too well that life is riven through with uncertainties of all sorts. They range from those big uncertainties that we cannot possibly know, to the little things that we sort of know, might know, ought to have known and so on. They shape our lives. They alter the course of our trajectory through the maze of decisions we make and reflect the impact of the context in which we find ourselves at that moment. Perhaps we are influenced by a new group of friends. Perhaps a malady of some sort rears it ugly head. Perhaps, well just perhaps. Things happen that we cannot or do not predict. And we change.

We change our lives. We change our habits. We change our outlook. Changing in the face of uncertainty and its impact is a key characteristic of our humanity and of life itself. And our changes are not mechanistic or predictable. They are varied. They are novel. This variation of reaction is itself an uncertainty to those around us. Our reaction then becomes something they have to react to. And so novelty cascades through society in great ebbs and flows that lack predictability — or at least the kind of predictability central to orthodox economics.

So uncertainty has to be unseen by those who practice it. But since it is clearly evident around them, and since adaptation to it is a core attribute of being alive, they cannot ignore what they see. So they see it differently. The jaundice of orthodoxy invades their judgement and within its distortion appears a grotesque and twisted sham. Reality is displaced such that what is seen is only what they want to see. Or, rather, reality is replaced by what is seen only in their imaginations.

In the case of orthodox economics the prejudice caused by the belief in the efficacy of markets results in blindness even of those with the greatest vision. Economists who start out with such a belief are not studying the artifacts of a real economy and then explaining them. They are searching for explanations that fit their pre-existing belief. They are not seeing.

And this, I suppose is Péguy’s point: when we allow the encumbrance of our prejudice to distort what we see so that we see not what is there but what we want to see is there, we are blind.

No matter how well we see.

  1. Tom Welsh
    February 26, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    But economics would be TOO DIFFICULT if it accurately modelled the real world! It’s so much easier to notice a few obvious patterns, model them with simple equations, and then maintain that the resulting picture of the real world is to all intents and purposes complete. It’s rather like celestial mechanics limited to no more than two bodies, as with three or more the mathematics gets too hard.

  2. February 26, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    The world is actually awash in orthodoxies, and not just in the social sciences. Meditating on the present time environment would be an effective technique to counter the abstract fugues that the orthodox sometimes get caught up in .

  3. Herb Wiseman
    February 26, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Reminds me of the NAIRU concept now denied but I believe will be followed should inflation reappear. Deflation is the current fear.

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