Home > Uncategorized > Economics as science and ideology

Economics as science and ideology

from Peter Söderbaum

Book review of Offer, Avner and Gabriel Söderberg, The Nobel Factor: The Prize in Economics, Social Democracy and the Market Turn, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2016.

Since 1969 there has been a so called Nobel Economics Prize. It is not a normal Nobel Prize established by Alfred Nobel but rather a prize reminding us of the 300 year existence of the Central Bank in Sweden. The correct name is “The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”. The history of this prize, how it came about and its development over the years with Laureates and their achievements is now presented by two scholars in Economic History, Avner Offer and Gabriel Söderberg.

Offer and Söderberg appear to be well acquainted with developments in mainstream economics and the different achievements by the winners of the prize. However, their study is of interest mainly because they depart from neoclassical economists in their approach. Mainstream economists believe in value-neutrality (or at least behave as if they believed in value-neutrality). For Offer and Söderberg, value issues are instead at the heart of analysis. They are interested in the ideological and political role of “the Nobel Factor” over the years.

Beliefs in value-neutrality suggest that the values or ideological orientations of economists are of little interest. The scholar is just looking for the truth about economic agents (households and firms), the functioning of markets and the economy as a whole. In fact this value-neutrality idea functions as a “limited responsibility” doctrine for the neoclassical economist as scholar.  read more


  1. Franklin Chiemeka Aguwe
    January 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Awesome work by these great authors. I really enjoyed the book. I,ve always known all along that the Nobel prize in economics is not a determinant factor in the usefulness of awarded works. Most of the awarded works in Economics are of no practical value to reality. They always stop at INCREASES OUR UNDERSTANDING and not HAVE MADE THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE VIABLE or HAVE SUCCEEDED IN CREATING PATHS TO ECONOMIC FREEDOM. Why the Nobel authorities award such works still beats my imagination

  2. January 21, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    So happy to see this. Henceforth, let us never use the phrase “The Nobel Prize for Economics” but the “So-called Nobel Prize for Economics” or the “Bank of Sweden Prize for Old-Fashioned Neoclassical Economics”

  3. January 22, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Using the Nobel name is a fraud. The name should simply be “The Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics”.

  4. January 23, 2017 at 6:02 am

    The error of economists in their “science” is one shared by other social scientists. A science (there are many of them) is not defined by an array of methods, a particular form of mathematics, or a particular attitude (value neutral). Rather, a science is defined by the subject matter. Thus obviously physics and economics must be different sciences. Their subject matters are radically different. What unites them as sciences is repeated and deep observations of their subject matter, and writing up results of those observations that attempt to describe, summarize, and explain the subject matter on its own terms. Differential equations and laboratory experimentation fit well within physics as much as they do not fit within economics. Most of us do not expect to grasp in any significant sense the work of physicists in or out of laboratories. However, we generally feel we can grasp the work of economists. After all, their subject matter is something we live with and through everyday. And something in which we all have some part in creating. So the opaqueness and apparent irrelevance of their work appears strange to us. We are also surprised that the work of economists has an impact on government or the ways we choose our leaders. This is not something most of us associate with studying the forms and creation of economic life. That any form of the discipline of economics threatens our daily lives or seeks to supplant our community-based decision making is also surprising and for many of us upsetting. Rather than investigating and describing its subject matter (the ways of organizing economic life we all participate in creating) economists have set themselves up as arbiters (sometimes nearing absolute) of “correct” economics and correct living. This is not something for which most of us believe they should receive a prize. More appropriate would be a reprimand.

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