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Economists — dangerous arrogants

from Lars  Syll

In advanced economics the question would be: ‘What besides mathematics should be in an economics lecture?’ In physics the familiar spirit is Archimedes the experimenter. aaaaafeynBut in economics, as in mathematics itself, it is theorem-proving Euclid who paces the halls …

Economics … has become a mathematical game. The science has been drained out of economics, replaced by a Nintendo game of assumption-making …

Most thoughtful economists think that the games on the blackboard and the computer have gone too far, absurdly too far. It is time to bring economic observation, economic history, economic literature, back into the teaching of economics.

Economists would be less arrogant, and less dangerous as experts, if they had to face up to the facts of the world. Perhaps they would even become as modest as the physicists.

D. McCloskey

  1. graccibros
    February 25, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    Yes, and it echoes Robert Skidelsky’s advice in “Keynes: The Return of the Master” to make sure the young graduate students in economics read economic history before they immerse themselves in what “quants” do. Anyone remember the great team behind “Long Term Capital Management?” from the late 1990’s? Best and Brightest, if there ever was. And I can’t help but feel that there is a LTCM waiting out there in the current foul stew of global economic trends. Willem Buiter’s surfaced in today’s Bloomberg news, speaking about a global recession, and I haven’t heard his name come up for a long, long time, not since 2008-2009. Always paid close attention to what he was saying without endorsing his ideology.

  2. February 26, 2016 at 5:38 am

    In this respect economists are just an extreme example of what’s happening with lots of science and many scientists. Upon meeting Jonas Salk the general reaction was this is a nice guy, well-groomed for a researcher who always met the public with sincerity and humility. Now scientists in general are often not nice, either to one another or the public, and often sincerity and humility seem to have been replaced by defensiveness and hubris (sometimes extreme hubris). And the social scientists seem most defensive and most arrogant in their certainty they know what is best for all. And of these economists seem at the top. But for most of its history science has been an elitist intellectual tradition. For a time this tradition did not take root in the USA. But that day is long past. Now we have some of the most insincere and arrogant scientists in the world. And that’s scary in light of the political, economic, and military influence wielded by many scientists.

  3. graccibros
    February 26, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Going back to the original post here, it brings to mind the absence of a serious discussion in the American Presidential primaries of the rise of China, the US’s prominent and long standing trade imbalance with that nation, and the role of Bill Clinton and the economic establishment, esp. Paul Krugman, in defending free trade and globalization.

    For a quick refresher course and replay of Krugman’s nastiness, please revisit William Greider’s essay in the Nation from April 1, 2013: “Why Was Paul Krugman So Wrong.” Krugman spent considerable time in print attacking journalist Greider’s book “One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism” which was essentially an open challenge to the way globalization was going to work out for the U.S. – vastly to China’s advantage. To whet your appetite for the essay, here’s a few choice quotes:

    “Both political parties, every president from Reagan to Obama, embraced the same free-trade strategy: support U.S. multinational corporations in global competition, as their success is bound to lift the rest of the country. Roughly speaking, the opposite occurred, not only for the working class but for the broad US economy…The current fiscal debates in Congress do not even recognize that free trade globalization is a core source of America’s diminished prosperity.”

    Despite Krugman going after Greider, his methodology and conclusion in “One World Ready or Not…” Greider has not, rightly or wrongly, gone after Krugman with the same vehemence, of the type Krugman has just once again displayed in attacking Gerald Friedman’s running the numbers on the Sanders’ policy proposals. Instead, Greider broadened the charge: “The failure {to understand the implications of free trade globalization} belongs to macroeconomics, an intellectual discipline now in shambles. The financial crisis and deteriorating US prosperity made clear the theory failed to predict the future nor does it explain the past.”

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