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Economics 10Whatever

from Peter Radford

I have been less vexed about economics recently precisely because I have been focused on other, and more urgent, topics. The politics of our age are wondrously absorbing, if not a little disturbing. In any case I do try to keep an eye on what economists are up to. In that endeavor I came across a short article by Diane Coyle on the website “Project Syndicate”. If you want to know what is occupying the establishment it’s a good place to visit periodically.

And Professor Coyle is decidedly establishment.

Her article is couched as a book review/discussion of what ails economics. In it she attempts to refute the notion that economics is lost in a desert of its own making, as I and many others would suggest, but rather, she argues, it is vibrant and rapidly modernizing. She tries to persuade us that critics, like me, just don’t get what’s going own at the frontier of the discipline. There are, apparently, a load of breakthrough ideas some of which might make it into the textbooks sometime in the future.


But not great enough.

Two paragraphs towards the end of her article illustrate the issues: 

“Behavioral psychology, complexity theory, agent based modeling and the like, along with historical narratives, and emphasis on institutions, methods such as randomized control trials and now big data and AI, are by no means a coherent new mainstream. It takes time to change curricula, and institutional inertia makes new approaches too risky and difficult for young economists seeking academic jobs and promotions”

What do we make of this?

On its face Coyle seems to be telling us that lots of exciting things are going on. After all throughout the article she is hinting at the new work people such as Andrew Lo are doing. Lo is the author of one of the books she reviews and she clearly is an advocate of his work. But, she tells us, he has been striving away at his non-mainstream efforts since 1986. Presumably that is most, if not all, his academic life. He is one of the people, Coyle lets us know, trying to incorporate advances in the human sciences into economics. He has, presumably, failed so far. After all not much of the modern economics curriculum is built on the kind of psychology and evolutionary theory Lo specializes in. By not much I mean really little. As in if you squint really really hard you might see a vague trace of it.

This is, of course, not Lo’s fault, but for Coyle to swat aside the critics by reference to a body of work that still sits resolutely outside the mainstream doesn’t bolster her argument. It weakens it.

Yes behavioral psychology is being taken on board in economics. Its about time. It is decades late. But the textbooks don’t yet reflect the change. They are firmly stuck in the past. Nor, in Coyle’s own words, is the profession apparently keen on updating itself. In her own words: it is difficult, if not impossible, for new ideas to form the basis of activity for young economists bent on climbing the professional ladder. Inertia seems to get in the way.

Doesn’t it always?

Perhaps in a generation or two we might finally purge the extraordinarily simple and naive version of psychology that still dominates economics. It was included not as an effort to understand human activity and its motivations, but to make analysis tractable. It was a prop for other ideas that needed to be given a footing. It wasn’t a result of serious study beyond that of the mid to late 1800’s when a description of utility and so on was deemed useful during the so-called “marginal revolution”. It was an afterthought, in other words, to a need to make economics appear more scientific. As psychology is has always been absurd, but economists aren’t psychologists, so they adopted absurdity with brio and dash in the service of their broader agenda.

Coyle goes on …

“Practicing economists outside universities do not keep up with the research frontier — although even here, useful tools such as behavioral economics, complexity theory, market design, and network theory are making significant inroads. Still, the economics taught in university departments, practiced in financial firms, and applied by policymakers remains heavily reliant on old-fashioned reductionist rational-choice models.”

Exactly, Professor Coyle. Exactly.

But what do you mean?

The first sentence implies that those of us out here in the real world are behind the times. This is something I would contest strongly. My experience is that the ideas mentioned in that first sentence are more likely to be thought about and tested outside a university than inside. At least in terms of a broad definition of economics. The business strategy world is steeped in them. It has been for a while now. I realize that economists still see business theory as a stepchild of economics not worth spending time on, but there’s some real action out there. And that action is having a direct impact on the economy. After all it is practical.

Then the second sentence appears as a non-sequitor. Having, fairly directly, disparaged non-university economics as being distant from the cutting edge, Professor Coyle then goes on to suggest that university departments too remain heavily reliant on old fashioned models. Worse still, policymakers are way behind too.

So where is the cutting edge?

Somewhere other than most universities. And certainly not in places like the Federal reserve Board, the World Bank, of the International Monetary Fund all of which are staffed to the gunnels with economists. Out of date very one of them.

Now, I don’t want to be unfair: Coyle has a point. There is lots of good stuff going on. It’s just that, as Lo’s career illustrates, it takes ages, if not generations, for it to appear in the mainstream.

So: if you are a student wanting to be on the cutting edge and you want to understand the economy — the real one and not the oddity that economists study — get out and about. Go study somewhere where the new ideas are being absorbed more rapidly. Or, alternatively, go locate other disciplines where those ideas are already old hat. You can then study the economy through the lens of contemporary thought without having to wait for the stodgy world of economics to catch up.

The odds are that it won’t.

  1. June 28, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    I think the division between “old” and “cutting edge” is a red herring. A better model is that economics was really bad in the 1920s, then in the 1930s we figured out why we were wrong in 1929, and then regardless of what state of the art is, every decade after the 1930s, the economics pundits more and more resembled views that Coolidge would have recognized (with the exception of tariffs and the gold standard).

    When we have another 1929 event, our economic theory will very quickly take on the characteristics of economics of the 1930s.

    Meanwhile, Harvard is richly rewarded for pushing a neoliberal agenda with an endowment greater than some country budgets while local community colleges are sometimes stuck paying their adjunct professors below minimum wage.

    • June 29, 2017 at 3:00 am

      So we employ an army or two of sub minimum wage economists to measure externalized costs in calories and simply walk on by the madness in a new wave of cosmic consciousness made alert by modern economics. Very good.

  2. June 28, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    The problem is and has always been the complete denial by economists that the design of banking itself is the root of money system instability and no one hoping to be employed dare say that.

  3. June 29, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I’ve read a tiny bit of of before, and just glanced at the summary of his new book. (I see he also co-authored one with Solow and Binder, so even if he is ‘heterodox’ he may not consider them stupid though they mostly do traditional econ). His new book apparently sees ‘economic man’ as a combination of rational and irrational interests. I think that idea is as ;groundbreaking’ as my discovery that the earth is round if its not flat. H Simon had a similar idea in the 50’s. I imagine Lo has technical details which likely are somewhat new—-basically refinements of older theories a la physics (which basically develops more sophisticated approximations over time, using more math). But the basic ideas are not new.

    i think the real frontier is to see if there is any way to make theory and practice go together—id doesnt seem possdible. There is a US insitute of peace for example—which I as basically just a beorcracy and way to make money, like the UN, not peace. The institute of peace may require war to fund itself.

    Progressive economist types in my area collect data, or do models —often in ecological economics, but these seem to me to be mostly useful as excercizes in sophisticated propoganda or marketing—like Piketty’s stuff on inequality—or as science —meaning its done for fun and the aesthetics .People already know about the envirinment and inequality. Writing a book only inirectly changes that. (Maybe in 50 years books on basic income may have an affect—it took abolitionists a long time to end slavery).
    Or a few do ‘policy’ and applications—big stuff might be solar energy, environmental law, and setting up cooperatives.

    so much of this stuff is so discopnnected from each other its to a large extent ineffective –this is why the usa has an opioid epidemic —more dead from that last year than us casualties in vietnam war—and why Trump got elected—alot of people fall through the cracks.

    I’ve talked to some of the local people (some academics) about using network theory to some extent to see if one could sort of patch the ‘cracks’ in the system, basically to no avail. Most or all of these people are so busy competing to get their own projects operating they dont have much time to link up with others. (And one result in my area is a fair number of people basically are crack addicts (a kind of cocaine) who are of more use to Trump and drug cartels than to any ‘progressive’ movements—also addicts are a boon and business opportunity for therapists. They (and even Trump) can spend millions of dollars on treatment, but cant find any decent jobs for people–i cant find a decent job.

    Science magazine ran an article by some Stan ford people studying addiction—they mostly said people need treatment, more research etc. They didnt say they might not need that if they had jobs at stanford rather than what D Graeber called bs jobs.

    Besides a guaranteed income, perhaps there should be a consitutional amendment to make it a human right to be lazy, in terms of paul largue (huisband of marx’s daughter. ).

  4. June 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Peter Radford said that “Professor Coyle is decidedly establishment.” If this is not a compliment or sarcasm, Coyle’s most important message must be this:

      ”But the long era of hegemony for mainstream neoclassical economics is over.”

    Why doesn’t he hail this big change? It is now time to change mainstream economics from neoclassical economics to another. A competition of which will be “another” or new coming mainstream is welcome. It is not very wise to scorn and grudge new trends. For those who is always negative and do not try anything, the odds are surely not very big.

    • robert locke
      July 13, 2017 at 8:40 am


      Contradiction for historians is the very picture of reality. You write, “Theory is an effort to screen out what is truer and more important among many contradictory facts.” Here is an example of where it has not worked and set back serious research.

      In the 1960s neoclassical economists persuaded some historians (not me) to introduce neoclassical economic theory and econometrics into their studies, which became the New Economic History (NEH). Methodology and theory imported from economics led to studies (or rather information manipulation) that brought about total reinterpretation of economic history. Two examples. One standard interpretation was that French industrialization stagnated and became retarded in the 19th century (which was an important element in explaining France’s decline in great power competition). Econometric data, the reformers said, proved that France’s economy did not stagnate or become retarded. (I was puzzled by this and looked into it, to find that people confused historical categories in their econometric analysis. I discuss this in the Introduction to my book. The End of the Practical Man, 1984, 2006). The second reinterpretation was about the failure of Victorian entrepreneurs in their ability to keep abreast of competition in the late 19th and early 20th century. Using neoclassical economic theory, the revisionists claimed their had been no failure. But everybody living at the time, statesmen, industrialists, economic journalists, etc. said there had been a failure just as there had been a failure in French entrepreneurialism (a theme that is constant in French history, right up to the present.) I let the comments and contemporary investigations of the actors guide my research in these matters. From them I discovered that the mental capital needed to advance entrepreneurship in the late 19th century had a scientific component that was missing during the lst ind revolution and that this educational component, which gave an advantage especially to Germany in new technologies was a result not of economic causation but of educational traditions that were missing in both France and the UK. Institutional-educational traditions, social habits, not economic theory or causation could explain results.

      In almost every subject I have dug into, I find similar results. One more example. In the late 1970s I became a supported of Alfred D Chandler Jr. view of managerial hierarchies (the visible hand), that strategy and structure, embodied in the new managerial hierarchies, the creation of a managerial caste, which Americans have bought into full cloth, explains how US mass production industries gained world prominence. But I have completely changed my mind about that because, after evaluating the rise of Japan postwar, what became apparent to me was that a managerial caste, managerialism, actually became the source of US decline beginning in the last two decades of the 20th century. Chandler’s view about the efficiency of managerial hierarchies was wrong; they were not and are not efficient. The whole idea that a group of knowledge monopoliists (the manager trained in business schools) can run economies better than management that is co-determined by employees is incorrect, but assumed in our educational institutions. History shows that both Germany and Japan developed first class management in firms without having elite management schools and MBAs pouring out of their institutions of higher education. You’ll never reach such conclusions through reading economic theory. It does not even discuss such important topics.

      • July 13, 2017 at 10:18 am

        Excellent statement, Robert. I worked on several management studies in the 1980s of American automobile companies losing the competition with Japanese auto manufacturers. One of the recommendations was to fire all the middle managers. They had little first-hand experience with auto manufacturing, but had MBAs and were hired as professional managers to operate between shop floor forepersons and plant/company management. They destroyed workers’ trust in management and management’s ability to deal with work floor issues. Despite their failures the middle (professional) managers were not fired. The era of “professional” management in American auto manufacturing was firmly established.

      • July 13, 2017 at 10:53 am

        You may have posted your answer in a wrong place. If you want to post it as a response to my post July 13, 2017 at 5:04 am, you should have “replied” (crick “reply” there) on my post of June 30, 2017 at 2:37 pm. You have mistakenly “replied” to my post of June 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm.

        Don’t worry. This is not important. Let us continue our discussion here. I only noted this for the sake of other readers. Without this caution, they may perplexed why your argument suddenly changed in this way.

        Your mistake was rather a lucky one, because my main point of the post of June 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm was that the dominance of neoclassical economics is now declining. Good news is that a new economics is emerging to replace the neoclassical economics. I am proposing collaboration and cooperation between this new theory and historians and experimental researchers to accelerate the decline of the neoclassical economic. In this respect, I believe that historians and experimental researchers have much to do. Expressing your frustration is not sufficient. You have been doing since 1970’s but the main stream economics did not changed much.

        You have given two stories how the collaboration between theory and history did not worked well. Among two of them, the first one is simple. If New Economic History was an attempt to introduce neoclassical economics and econometrics, the major problem must lie with the neoclassical economics. Econometrics has little to say on what you should study. It tells how to do a research once you have fixed the target of your investigation.

        As for the cause of French “failure” in the second industrial revolution, what you have detected as main failure was higher education system. I do not doubt that this must be one of reasons of the failure. However, neoclassical economists would say that education and accumulation of human capital were one of their main themes of neoclassical growth theory (new growth theory or endogenous growth theory).

        You example with Alfred Chandler is more difficult to judge. Now we have the theory called Comparative Institutional Analysis (CIA). It did not existed in 1960’s. One of the founders of CIA was Late Professor Aoki. Avner Grief was another founding members of the CTA. This field developed much in 1980’s. I once worked as Aoki’s research assistant for about six years. I do not totally agree with his analysis, but he has given an explanation that American and Japanese systems of management and labor relations have their own reasons to succeed. Therefore, what you said that “You’ll never reach such conclusions through reading economic theory” may not be very correct.

        It is difficult to tell whether CIA is a part of neoclassical economics or not. Professor Aoki believed that it is the way to make a breakthrough and go beyond neoclassical economics. My opinion is a bit different. Without rebuilding price theory from the very basis, there is no chance to build a new economics.

        At any rate, your proof that theory “has not worked and set back serious research” was your experience that went wrong. It doe not disproof that “theory is an effort to screen out what is truer and more important among many contradictory facts.”

      • July 13, 2017 at 11:06 am

        The above post is addressed for Robert Locke, not for Ken Zimmerman. I did not noticed that Ken had posted a new answer when I was writing my answer.

      • robert locke
        July 18, 2017 at 8:49 am

        Yoshinori, I know only neoclassical economics and cliometric, as you say, because I have studied the reformation of economic studies in the postwar WWII world. Read, for example, Khurana’s long analysis of us business business schools, and a host of other studies, including my own, wherein the triumph of the neoclassical school in economic studies is catalogued. I am, of course, conversant with alternative forms of economic analysis, from the earlier historical and institutional schools that you disparage to the work of engineers in the field of economics in Germany and elsewhere, and the descendants of the Listian tradition operating now. You are right, I need to know more, but I’ll have to leave that to another reincarnation.

      • robert locke
        July 18, 2017 at 9:12 am

        Yoshinori, I ran across Professor Aoki’s work, in translation, while doing my book on the Collapse of the American management mystique (Oxford UP, 1996). In the late 1980s and the 1990s we were all reading American management literature about the Japanese corporation and its management in order to find out why US firms were closing and creating the rust belt in manufacturing. I refer to these phenomena in my recent article in rwer no. 79 on Trumponomics and firm governance. In this literature I also learned about the renovation of German manufacturing through Japanese experiences, as related and analyzed by American management experts, which passed through them to the Germans That influence persists today in the lean production movement (Toyota Kata), but it exists primarily among engineers in the manufacturing community and not economists.

      • July 18, 2017 at 9:30 am

        Robert Locke

        The following story may not be very helpful to you, but I had a chance to know Professor Takahiro Fujimoto, who is one of the best researchers in automobile industry. He had a keen interest on competitions between Japan and China. We wrote a co-authored paper on this theme:


        In the process of preparing this paper, I learned much from him and it seems our collaboration was also helpful for him. This paper is one of most read paper fir me.

        He also hint led me to find that an interesting mathematical structure was hiding behind the Ricardian theory of international trade.
        An essence is summarized in
        International trade theory and exotic algebra

        I had a good chance. Collaboration between economics and management science can be very fruitful in some cases.

      • July 18, 2017 at 11:56 am

        Robert, you will find what Yoshinori is talking about as a set of concentric triangles representing channels at Figure 8 in the paper I sent you. What can be expressed as exotic algebra described with incomprehensible names can be shown directly in topological (i.e. ordered but non-metric) geometry.

  5. Risk Analyst
    June 29, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    For there to be change there has to be a reason for change. I just don’t see it. In some kind of Darwinian fashion, neoclassical economics won at least so far. Reality and accuracy just does not matter at this point, and the neoclassicals have a simple story easy to sell. For example, Danielle Booth’s Fed Up book tells about Federal Reserve economists who gain prestige and advancement by publishing in journals and getting closer to Fed Bank president’s inner circle of advisors. Accuracy and reality just do not matter in that world. It is publish and practice office politics. On the Fed Board’s own website of research papers prior to the recession, the last paper published in 2007 was: “Continuous Time Extraction of a Nonstationary Signal with Illustrations in Continuous Low-pass and Band-pass Filtering.” Gee, that was sure useful.

    • June 30, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      R A: Looking at your disdain from an information science perspective, what you seem to be seeing is economists having “a simple story easy to sell” and not the economy failing to deliver what is needed of it. What you are “not seeing” in the title of that 2007 paper was the significance of being able to separate the wheat from the chaff – the method of taking account of what happens only slowly (leaving out everyday events) and the limitations of considering only what we can see (i.e. the band of frequencies our eyes are tuned in to). These may not be directly useful in communicating fictitious economics, but understanding the observation, representations and communication which occur in real economies surely is.

  6. June 30, 2017 at 10:15 am

    I’m on board with Risk Analyst. Evolution provides the biological basis of human actions and interactions. Cultural adaptation builds on this base. Professional economics is one cultural adaptation. Considering the cultural setting during the period when the academic discipline of economics was created the form it took was not surprising. Envy of classical physics, the devotion to equilibrium, the primacy of mathematics, and the fear of being classified as only a social science all fit with the late 19th/early 20th century construction of professional economics. And to this the creation of the “big” university during the middle of the 20th century (with publish or perish, the elevation of esoteric research over practical problem solving, and the constant pursuit of research fame and dollars) and the control of all major organizations by one or another form of behavioral managerialism. All the American social and physical sciences look as they do today largely because of this history. Economics fared worse because its foundations were narrower and thus more unstable and because the founders of economics wanted “their” science to be a physical, not a social science. Economics literally created itself outside the accepted divisions of science. Not a social science; unable to become a physical science; floating in the ether with no way of justifying its existence or research. Or, more succinctly, economics was created with and continues to have a big chip on its shoulder.

    • robert locke
      June 30, 2017 at 10:25 am

      I have no problem with economics being woefully ignorant, all human created science faces that hurdle; but when the subject is willfully ignorant, then I have a problem, because the whole purpose of intellectual inquiry is perverted. If people willfully cling to ignorance, they turn their project into ideology.

      • July 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm

        In all it various iterations economics was created with a fundamental flaw at its core – the belief that’s its theories and methods grasped the truth. This is self-destructive for a social science. If your science gives you truth, there’s no need or desire to do all the difficult and uncertain examination and research attempting to figure out what’s happening. You simple need to proclaim the truth and wait as the rest of the world falls in line. As you suggest Robert, this is ideology, and eventually idolatry.

      • robert locke
        July 19, 2017 at 8:54 am

        “C E Shannon’s seeing telephone exchange switching circuits obeying the rules of logic was an event as significant as Newton seeing gravity pulling the earth to his apple”

        Dave, aren’t you engaging in hyperbole. Alexander Pope’s famous, “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night, God said let Newton be and all was light” was meant as an epitaph for his death; you’er not suggesting the Shannon’s achievement has gained that sort of acceptance in our society as Newton had. I remember, that George Boole’s Laws of Thought, 1854, which used mathematics to analyze the logic of language, was an achievement in the history of computers that ranked with Shannon’s. The historians description of the history of science is quite complex. I attempted it in the 1980s, in two chapters of my book Management and Higher Education Since 1940 (Cambridge University Press, 1989), which today almost 30 years later reads pretty well. See first two chapters, The New Paradigm and the New Paradigm Revisited.

      • July 19, 2017 at 1:54 pm

        Robert, I’m not engaging in hyperbole and I’m not being woefully ignorant: I’m repeating a judgment formed forty years ago in light not only of information science being my job as history is yours, but of the woeful ignorance of even brilliant people like Phillip Moroswki: not understanding what Shannon did, or even that it was his theses that made the leap from Boole’s mathematics to digital computing/linguistic encoding methods and reliable technology, which I have been involved with since their first generation but is already as ubiquitously embedded in everyday equipment as is Newtonian mechanics.

        I suppose I’d better offer you a quote: from S Towill’s “Logic and the Engineer”, from ‘Electronics and Power’, November 1969. (This also has some interesting references).

        “Boolean algebra deals first with classes and secondly with propositions where the values are limited to 1 and 0 (i.e. true or false). C E Shannon showed in a paper written in 1938 that a perfect analogy exists between an algebra applied to propositions and and algebra applied to switching circuits. Any operation that can be completely described in a finite number of steps using the logical words AND, OR, IF etc. can not only be expressed in Boolean algebra but also done automatically with relays. … The ‘principle of duality’ says that an identity is unchanged if we interchange in an equation 0 and 1 and (+) and (*) . Thus, if x + x’ = 1, then xx’ = 0. This principle is the justification for saying that Boole’s algebra and Shannon’s algebra are the same if we consistently keep to the same interpretation”.

        I don’t suppose you’ve even heard of the linguistic equivalent of Boole’s book: George Spencer Brown’s “The Laws of Form; nor of my elder school contemporary John Lyons’ “Semantics”. I am frustrated by the fact that the scientific Establishment seems unable to understand the difference between encoding, information capacity and meaning, but astonished that after all that has been said here about the economic Establishment not taking a blind bit of notice of what heterodox economists try to say that you would dare suggest I couldn’t be serious. What has been significant has been the changes made possible by Newton and Shannon’s insights; the human respect we (or in any case I) pay them is to honour their names and study their work. Newton incidentally didn’t invent the idea of gravity, he reinterpreted it in a way which more consistently made sense.

    • June 30, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      Dear Ken,
      do yo mean that you have no prospectus for the new economics to construct?

      Economics is like divination. If the economics becomes a better science, the bad economics continues to influence the politics and policies and lead the society to a worse state.

      • July 1, 2017 at 12:31 pm

        Yoshinori, my prospectus for economics is the same as my prospectus for any proposed science. Economists, as scientists do not invent economics or economies. Their job is to study and reveal what other humans have created and use. It’s a hard job, but not an impossible one. Economists need to get over their desire to be the center of attention. And do what all scientists do, blend in with the surroundings. Let the objects of their study take center stage instead.

      • July 2, 2017 at 10:47 am

        Prospectus for economics must be more concrete one. You must show your research project that you can prospect that we can get a new economics.

      • July 2, 2017 at 10:50 am

        You mean a new professional discipline? Or, a new economy?

      • July 4, 2017 at 6:15 am

        We are always talking about economics, aren’t we?

        Distinction between economics and economy is very clear. Economics is a professional discipline. It is not an economy. It is at the same time a social science.

      • July 6, 2017 at 6:51 am

        Sociologists and historians of science study the question of the relationships between science and its environment. Regarding economics (the academic study) many empirical studies find that economics structures (performs is the technical term) and is structured by economies. For example, markets look as they do and fail as they do because economists provide the theories upon which they are based. But legal, philosophical, religious, and political arrangements modify whether, where, and how such theories are applied. Businesses look and behave as they do because of accounting and fiduciary requirements based on economic theories. But these requirements must operate alongside the Constitution, Boards of Directors, and public opinion. It’s a complex situation but economists (mostly neoliberal today) are in there trying to set it up there way. Some, many it seems on this blog believe neoliberal economists have the upper hand in the creation of economies. Whether that is the case certainly depends on which parts of the economy one considers. In banking, debt, and interest neoliberal economists seem to have a lot of influence. Less so in heavy industry and construction. And even less so in services. But with Mr. Trump’s administration there is an aggressive push to “neoliberalize” all aspects of all economies. Visit any news media site and you will see the strong disapproval of and resistance to this effort.

      • July 6, 2017 at 5:20 pm

        You are switching the point. I asked you if you have any prospectus for new economics. All those complications are granted.

      • July 9, 2017 at 5:14 am

        “Prospectus for new economics.” I’ve said more than a few times that economics needs to begin from scratch. It’s current form is a poor imitation of 19th century physics. A “new” economics would rather be modeled on 21st century anthropology. Anthropology is the broadest and “softest” of the social sciences. Anthropologists are not wedded to any single theory, methodology, or form of argument or research subject. Their focus is on all Homo Sapiens’ actions and interactions. Their research and papers are peer reviewed and even field work is verified by other anthropologists. Anthropologists also have no problems accepting and working within the complexity of events and actions of and about Homo Sapiens. Such a re-modeling of economics would first allow it to escape reliance on some form of markets and equilibrium to frame research and to focus broadly on how humans use and abuse resources in their efforts to make the species more durable. It also would allow economists to consider questions about justice, fairness, equality, and political choices largely excluded or submerged in unacknowledged biases by current economists.

      • July 9, 2017 at 5:42 am

        It sounds that you are preaching that economics should be reborn as a natural history. It would not make economics no much better. The lessons of historical schools in Germany and England of the 19th century teach us that mere accumulation of historical, institutional, and anthropological knowledge did not aid us to understand how the economy works.

      • July 9, 2017 at 7:25 am

        Yoshinori Shiozawa, I’m advocating that economics be made into a social science. If that can’t be done I don’t think the academic discipline called economics has much of a future. I chose to model this new social science on Anthropology for the reasons I gave. Plus the move to replace economics is already happening. Behavioral (psychological) economics is well established. As is economic sociology. Economic Anthropology is also well under way. These are already creating new studies of economic actions and interactions. Perhaps economics will simply fade away? But considering the other motivations of economists (the non-science ones) this seems unlikely.

      • robert locke
        July 9, 2017 at 8:49 am

        “The lessons of historical schools in Germany and England of the 19th century teach us that mere accumulation of historical, institutional, and anthropological knowledge did not aid us to understand how the economy works.”

        We would not be having this conversation if the efforts of neoclassical economists and mathematical model builders had succeeded where your quote says the historical schools failed. What I have learned from the history of economics as a discipline is that it has not succeeded in its ambitions to become a science. Dave Taylor holds out the hope of eventual success based on information science. But it has not happened yet. I cannot understand exactly why we should even care if economics is a science; is it just to make a bunch of academics happy?

      • July 10, 2017 at 11:59 am

        The historical school in Germany, the UK, and the US did a great deal to improve understanding of how economies work. The major concepts developed by the historical school are institution, evolution, and national policy, and historical and ethical methods were required to explore these key concepts. Thus, recent perspectives in economic and social theory such as institutionalism, evolutionism, and communitarianism can be conceived to have originated in the historical school and related schools of thought. But its emphasis on historical and ethical methods led mainstream economists to label it unscientific. The historical school is wonderfully scientific, in the way Richard Feynman defines science. “And so what science is, is not what the philosophers have said it is, and certainly not what the teacher editions say it is. What it is, is a problem which I set for myself.”

      • robert locke
        July 10, 2017 at 12:31 pm

        Since I have spent my life studying the importance of higher education in economic development, I am certainly appreciative of the historical school’s work, especially on institutions. So, bravo Ken, for pointing this out. The problem, however, is physics envy, i.e., if economics does not resemble physics it is not scientific. Every serious scientist or scholar sets problem for him/herself and is engaged in science in Feynman’s sense. But the people who took over mainline economics after WWII would not admit it; indeed, they threw historical and institutional economists out of the guild.

      • July 11, 2017 at 6:58 am

        Robert, perhaps the situation is not as you think. Historical and institutional economists may have thrown theoretical economists out of the guild, or at least pushed them to the side of the road. After the 1960s the study of history in colleges in the US declined as the BBA and MBA began to assert themselves as the “get a good job” solution for college students. Wharton and other pro “big money” east and west coast schools lead the parade. The idea was to place business management on the same level as medicine or law. A “professional” degree for business managers. Before this change finally took hold in the 1960s the most common college major for managers in business was history. History as a major suffered a concerted attack and downturn beginning in the 1970s. Labeled impractical and useless or a waste of time, it did not fit what the gurus of BBAs and MBAs thought was necessary for the industrialized and financialized future of the United States. So, while historical economics may be a better choice that the theoretical schools that dominate US economics today, the historical studies the undergird it have greatly been de-legitimized.

      • robert locke
        July 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm

        Ken, when I returned to the history department in Hawaii, after a two year stint as Esso Chairholder, in the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, Brussels (1982=84), I decided to develop a course on the history of Management. I asked the Asst Dean in the College of Business if they would cross list my course in their college catalogue. She refused, with the haughty remark that “it was not the mission of the business school to furnish student to failing disciplines like history.” I objected to such lack of cooperation, she complained to the Vice-President for academic affairs about my attitude and I received a reprimand from him for my objection to the treatment I received. Veblen warned us in 1918 about the effect that the admission of business schools into universities would have on their educational mission. I experienced it first hand in the University of Hawaii in the 1980s.

        Not only was history under attack from managerialists, but the humanities, through postmodernism, denigrated historical studies, too. It all accompanied neoliberalism’s critique of social democracy.

      • July 11, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        Dear Ken,

        You are “advocating that economics be made into a social science.” (July 9, 2017 at 7:25 am) It is your freedom that you expect and try to construct a social science, but an idea of a social science theory seems to me a fantasy.

        There were and are scholars who accused compartmentalization of social sciences and asked for constructing a unified social science. Names like Marx, Weber, and Wallerstein can be cited as some of most famous cases of such a demand. Wallerstein had a clear program for the unified social science. In 1970’s slogans like interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary studies were widely heard. When there is a decline of social trust in social sciences and in economics in particular, demand for a unified social science resurrects just like a phoenix.

        However, we should reflect more historically what the result of all those challenges was. Wallerstein was once very popular but in final account he could only present a rough scheme of the modern world history. Does it serve as something that will serve as a savior of the present disarray of social sciences including economics? I do not think so.

        Many of old Marxists protested compartmentalization of social sciences and demanded a unified social science. Did such a program produce any real progress in any of social sciences and in economics in particular?

        All experiences of the 20th century social sciences teach us that we should reflect more deeply and wisely than a simple dream of a unified social science.

      • July 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm

        Dear Yoshinori Shiozawa.

        Ken has no prospectus. He has a point of view.

        When Polanyi said there had been a Great Transformation: that exchange relationships within communities and between persons– had dramatically changed with monetized exchange, he was pointing to a happening which, prior to his writing, had been little examined through very much hinted at by Marcel Mauss, Simmel, and others.

        In my view, monetary systems introduced ‘values-in-exchange’ into systems wherein ‘values-in-use’ had been largely the ‘base’ values for exchange and exchange relationships within traditional pre-monetized cultures.

        My issues with Ken are that he does not wish to start with any hypothesis that the price system,incomes, and the income distribution give us any mathematical information about how money operates to create a system wherein value-in-exchange all but obviates values-in-use from theoretical consideration like the ‘utilitarians’ have.

        I say the opposite: that values-in-use are not only important but also that the use-values of money have altered human behaviors and that it is sensible to examine modern monetary economies in ways that take these influences on the use of goods in ‘economies’ into account.

        Where I agree with Ken that economics is ‘social science’, I say that elements of it –namely how nominal prices affect decision-making can definitely be reduced to mathematical forms which displace existing theoretical constructions cast in ‘real’ terms– is essential to any development of economics as a science.

      • July 12, 2017 at 12:58 pm

        Robert, monarchs and other “absolute” rulers hate historians, so they expend great energy and effort to control them and what they say and write. So, it is with the gurus of economics and its latest “unquestionable” explanation of economics and the world-in-general, neoliberalism. Such total theories of how the world works and where we all belong in it must defend themselves from historians. Historians ask such embarrassing questions and dig where they ought not. Historians have always played the part of referee in the games of building human civilizations. You know how baseball and football fans feel about “refs.” The fans only want to win. So, yes, the attacks you experienced remain quite common, and destructive of both historians and civilizations.

        Yoshinori Shiozawa, social sciences are not primarily theories, but rather observation-driven temporary hypotheses, evolving as humans and human civilizations evolve. At least, that’s the goal of social sciences. Yes, the early social scientists made an error in “compartmentalizing” the actual flow of human lives and civilizations into neat packages of psychology, sociology, etc. Anthropology’s error was focusing in its beginnings on pre-historical (pre-literate) societies. That’s now been corrected. In fact, all the social sciences are attempting to be “inter-disciplinary” even to the point of including physical sciences (e.g., geology, chemistry) in the work of examining human lives and civilizations. These developments haven’t come very far, yet. But it seems to me there is hope for a unified and comprehensive social scientific and physical science study of humans and civilizations. Putting economics into this path seems its best hope to be a social science and not as described in John Rapley’s new book, “Twilight of the Money Gods: Economics as a Religion and How it all Went Wrong.” Rapley cites economist Wassily Leontief from his 1971 presidential address to the American Economic Association about the only viable option economics has for survival, “…economists must explore their assumptions and data by conducting social, demographic and anthropological work, and economics need[s] to work more closely with other disciplines.” Sound advice, in my view.

        Larrymotuz, I think I understand what you mean by ‘values-in-exchange’ and ‘values-in-use.’ The first has the focus and events of economics in exchange for exchange’s sake. We no longer set up markets and trade mostly to help us improve our lives and civilizations but solely for the “rush,” the excitement of as Donald Trump would say, “the deal.” I agree. But I don’t think exchanging in money is the root of this change. Many pre-literate civilizations and most early literate civilizations used money. But they differed from what we have today in two ways. First, trading, merchants, and moneylenders did not have great political power in these civilizations. In fact, they were often pushed near the bottom of social hierarchies. Second, most had unified moral and religious institutions. And these stood near the top of the hierarchies. These institutions controlled all areas of life, including trading and money lending. The democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries broke the control of many of these institutions. And while individual freedom sounded good, in practice it was difficult for it to sustain a unified society. But rather than work through these problems, special interests and totalitarians of all sorts used them to undermine democracy and the development of values that sustain both individual freedom and societal unification. And one of these schemes is, as you suggest class hierarchies, monetary arrangements, and income distributions. Mathematics can certainly help in understanding these schemes and the impacts they have on humans lives and civilizations. But I reject the notion that these schemes or their impacts can be “reduced” to mathematical forms. Even the things in science most amenable to treatment via mathematics cannot be reduced to mathematics. Einstein said this over 100 years ago. No mathematician would ever accept as valid any such assertion. Mathematics is a useful tool, but it cannot be used to explain itself, or its inventors. Leading economics down this path is not viable or useful.

      • July 12, 2017 at 2:28 pm

        Robert Locke,

        you tried to include History of Management in the course work in the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management and failed. In this concrete case, your Assistant Dean was wrong and you were right.

        To understand any of social sciences, the history of the science is extremely important. However, you should not confuse with historization of social sciences. You can teach many concepts and give useful information by teaching histories (history of business and history of management science). But do you think that management science can be reduced a natural history?

        Bounded rationality (H.A. Simon) and definition of situation (Simon and March), for example, are extremely important ideas but they must not be reduced historical knowledge. They are binding our thinking and behavior anytime you want to make a decision. Management science should not be reduced to an accumulation of historical events.

        These kinds of theoretical concepts form the basis for the re-construction of the economics. I add adjective “theoretical” because no common people in their everyday life invented and used these concepts. These are results of really theoretical efforts of social scientists. See my paper below, for example, how these concepts are sued for the re-construction of economics.

        Microfoundations of Evolutionary Economics

      • robert locke
        July 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm

        Yoshinori, I know that scientists think that as a group they are responsible for the theoretical development of their disciplines. And they are. And that they think the economy is a dumb sea of facts, unless we use theory to make sense of them. But this is a conceit assumed by economists that I have never accepted. In the study of the economy I have, as an historian never started my inquiries through an exposition of economic theories. Rather, I have tried to investigate the opinions and actors of those engaged in economic activities, I mean entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, working in their institutional settings on economic questions. After reading and interviewing them, then I try to answer questions about the economy with reference to these actors.

        I have a very lower opinion of economic theory as a basis upon which to clarify economic behavior. That is why I start my research by looking at what people say who are engaged in the economy about the nature of the economic problems they are facing. I read a lot and I think a lot and I often find that what I glean from the actors in the economy contradicts theory.

      • July 13, 2017 at 5:04 am

        Dear Robert,

        your kind of research strategy is possible and necessary if we look around a community of researchers. Investigations and hearings with entrepreneurs, directors at the level of production sites, sales points and others are necessary works that someone haves to do and you are doing that. I highly respect your works and efforts.

        The point I want to advance here is that the information you get from these efforts often contradicts with each other. When you say that you “often find that what [you] glean from the actors of the economy contradicts theory,” you must remind that some parts of “theory” is based on the past experience and investigations. History-only stance may increase information but increases contradictions. Theory is an effort to screen out what is truer and more important among many contradictory facts.

        Let me take an example. Oxford Economists’ Research Group’s survey in late 1930’s is one of most famous investigations and we can deem it one of first attempts in this kind. They found two important stylized facts: (1) Entrepreneurs fix their product prices according to what is now called full-cost principle. (2) Interest rate does not play an important role when entrepreneurs have to decide whether it is the time to invest to increase their production capacity.

        These are very famous results but they are not incorporated in the scheme of neoclassical economics. (The second is also a clear refutation of the central scheme of Keynes’s investment function.) Mere finding of facts does not lead automatically to an innovation of economics. Karl Popper assumed that a science progresses by modifying theory at the face of facts that refute the theory. But this is not a general truth, at last in economics as a part of social sciences. For example, the famous Leontief paradox in 1950’s was a manifest refutation of Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson trade theory but the latter continues to be taught in almost all textbooks in international economics. Facts are not almighty in advancing the economics. This is the main reason why I oppose Ken Zimmerman’s simplistic proposal. Simple accumulation of facts does not make social sciences advance. As in natural sciences, social sciences advance by the cooperation of theory and empirical research.

        As some philosopher of science said (is it Norwood Russell Hanson?), only a theory can beat a theory. If you are frustrated in the neoclassical economics, it is necessary to reorganize our knowledge in a new scheme of economics.
        (See an interesting argument that it takes theory to beat a theory in Evonomics : Andrew W. Lo, It Takes a Theory to Beat a Theory: The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis

        Those who are inclined in history and facts have a tendency to deny all theoretical efforts and assume that they can redress economics (or other social science) only by accumulating facts. This strategy was refuted by the history of the science (be it natural or social) itself. You should be more interested in theory and fight against the fraudulent theory by presenting a new theory re-enforcing it by your fact findings.

      • July 13, 2017 at 9:22 am

        Yoshinori Shiozawa, regarding facts the question is how are they made? How are they created? Per Yuval Harari facts and theories are make-believe. And being make-believe there is history of their creation and use. Social scientists and economists are presumptuous when they assume they are merely collecting facts. When they observe human actions and interactions they are observing complete ways of life. The humans we observe understand what’s they’re doing. They’ve given their actions meaning and explanations. The first objective of social scientists is to respect what people have created, to describe it as fully as they can, and to communicate what they observe. Social science and economic theories are theories of theories. They need to stop making them something they are not. It gets in the way of both observation and understanding. One example that I’ve pointed to before is microeconomics. This is convenient shorthand for economists. It helps them pull their observations together. But none of the economic actors they observe are involved in microeconomics. Microeconomics should never subordinate or substitute for actual economic actions and actors. This error is rampant in mainstream economics and in most of the work of heterodox economists.

      • July 13, 2017 at 2:22 pm

        Ken Zimmerman,

        you are making too rough a statement. You state:

        Social scientists and economists are presumptuous when they assume they are merely collecting facts.

        Of course, if they assume that they merely are collecting facts, they are too presumptuous and too naive. But many of social scientists and economists are not so naive to believe in this way. Many of them know Norwood Russell Hanson’s thesis: observation is theory laden. Many good social scientists and economists know that theory and observation (or fact finding) are interacting with each other. Your way of argument makes me doubt if you know Hanson’s thesis.

        As you put it, “what people have created” lies primarily in the World 3, if I use Karl Popper’s terminology. But “respecting it and describing it as fully as they can” and letting them “to communicate what they observe” do not give you any pure facts. Neoclassical economics is so widely and deeply permeating that even high school students may tell you what they have received as truth but is taught as a part of neoclassical doctrine. You are too naive in believing that you can be free from neoclassical economics by neglecting it. Observation can be contaminated by theory in a very complicated way.

        You are right in claiming that “economic theories are theories of theories.” But when you say that “none of the economic actors they observe are involved in microeconomics,” you are wrong because central bank governors and economic policy planners as well as most common people are often slaves of mainstream economics. Many of the critical economists know this because this is only a part of Keynes’s observation:

        [T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. (Keynes, General Theory, Chap.24 Concluding Notes)

      • robert locke
        July 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

        Yoshinori, what I find so frustrating in my attempts to communicate with economists is that, either they do not reply or if they do, as you have, I only get a dialogue of the deaf. It does no good to tell economists that their theories do not clarify reality that an historian discovers when studying those engaged in the economy. Economists just repeat the idea that history is a dumb sea of facts, which it is not, or they quote more economists. You cannot refute conclusions drawn from studying people engaged in economic activity with theories economists create. I have read the rwer blog for years, with mountains of evidence presented, especially from Syll’s postings, about the inability of economic theory or econometric methodologies to clarify economic experience, without this evidence having the slightest effect on economists. That is the dialogue of the deaf. When I interview engineers, management consultants, economic journalists, about usefulness of economics, they just rolls their eyes. The idea is laughable to them.

      • July 15, 2017 at 8:23 am

        Robert Locke,
        Have you read your post of July 13, 2017 at 8:40 am and my reply July 13, 2017 at 10:53 am to your post. As the threads are extremely entangled I wonder if we are correctly under standing rightly.

      • July 15, 2017 at 9:10 am

        Yoshinori Shiozawa,

        I am familiar with Hanson’s work. But many others, notably sociologists and historians of science made the same assertions at about the same time as Hanson. The work of economists and other social scientists is influenced directly and indirectly by social science theories, physical science theories, and the theories of non-scientists of all sorts. Social studies of knowledge and science along with science and intellectual historians attempt to disentangle these influences and describe them. To open-up the histories of how science and knowledge are constructed and used. And as with all science and all history there is not an end or “truth” in this work, just a continual looking and refining. That is, if the examiners are scientists and historians and not ideologues looking to confirm what they believe and want. Reading this work, it becomes clear that “facts” are also theories. For example, Mary Povey’s book, “A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society” describes the invention of facts for a world centered around social science. She does this by examining the anthropological perspective of the changes in ways of life (the invention of social science) that created the need for such facts. This perspective also allows a glimpse into the separation of some knowledge into theory and some into fact. In terms of economics, a science of economics creates the need for economic facts, which are then invented to fill this need. This is a complex history. Difficult to map out. Her book reveals some of this complexity.

        I hope this helps you understand my comment that “none of the economic actors economists observe are involved in microeconomics.” Microeconomics is theory and facts invented by and for economists. Other actors have invented their own to do the job.

        You are correct that one of the influences on economic research and the actions of economic actors such as bankers, lawyers, hedge funds, CEOs, shoppers, etc. is neoclassical theory. As well as other theories of economics and social sciences. But these do not dominate or control actor actions. Human ways of life are too complex for that. These theories are filtered and changed by the actors who use them, based on the other influences in human actions. None of this, however changes the goal of social science research – to reveal and describe the actions, theories, meanings of whatever human actors are studied.

      • July 15, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        Ken Zimmerman,

        If you think so, why do you not want to fight with a new theory to change the established theories? The established theories i.e. mainstream economics is fundamentally wrong and are effecting bad influences on the people, on our economy, and by consequence on our life.

        However, it takes a theory to beat a theory. In my opinion, anthropology is too soft a weapon to fight against the mainstream economics. It is, as you know well, heavily armored.

        By the way, I wonder who have coined the above maxim (“it takes a theory …”). I thought that it can be find in Hanson, but I could not find a similar expression.

      • July 15, 2017 at 9:34 pm

        Yoshinori, NR Hanson’s famous “Patterns of Discovery” is about finding theories, not their use in argument. Given Ken is a lawyer, you may find the quotes here and the destructive Ken-like counters to them of interest:


      • July 16, 2017 at 4:52 am

        Dave Taylor

        Thank you for the information. I had read the web page quickly when I first searched the origin. I noticed that Richard A. Epstein used the expression “it take a theory to beat a theory” in 1983. But I have been missing that George Stigler used this expression in his Nobel Prize speech. It is possible that Epstein borrowed (unconsciously?) the expression.

        At your suggestion, I have read the page again and discovered something. As this expression is explained in the Legal Theory Lexicon, it seems that the expression has been disfigured and lost the original meaning it had. At least, its emphasis is very different form what I understand as original meaning of the maxim.

        This is known when we read part “Counter Move.” To oppose the maxim, some point there is no need of a theory. They say that it is sufficient to expose hidden “presumption” and you can defeat your opponent.

        This counter move tells that the expression lost the original meaning. Kuhn and others emphasized the difficulty to change the once-established paradigm, because it rules even the way of observing the world.

        Another displacement is this. It seems some people are defending their theory arguing that “if you do not present your alternative theory, I have the right to conserve the present theory.” Indeed, I see sometimes this kind of arguments among mainstream economists.

        Therefore, I understand that the expression “it takes a theory to beat a theory” should be used cautiously because it may be interpreted totally in an opposite meaning that I want to convey.

        When I say “it takes a theory to beat a theory,” the second “theory” is for example the neoclassical economics or present-day mainstream economics. Thus, a theory is in reality a set of theories, concepts, measurement, observations, and others that support the neoclassical economics. It is guarded by thick protective belts. The first “theory” that beats the second “theory” is also a set of theories, concepts and observations that can replace the hard core of the mainstream economics.

      • July 16, 2017 at 6:13 am

        Yoshinori Shiozawa,

        Richard Feynman in his famous Physics 101 lectures describes the scientific approach. Summarized he says this. 1) make a guess; 2) compare that guess to experience or experimental results; 3) guess is confirmed or not confirmed. The “guess” is the theory. Lesson: theories are guesses. Sociologists and Anthropologists of science reject Feynman’s “this is science” summary. Per Andrew Pickering, scientists believe,

        “Experimental facts dictate which theories are to be accepted and which rejected…. even if one were to accept that experiment produces unequivocal fact, it would remain the case that choice of a theory is underdetermined by any finite set of data. It is always possible to invent an unlimited set of theories, each one capable of explaining a given set of facts. Of course, many of these theories may seem implausible, but to speak of plausibility is to point to a role for scientific judgment: the relative plausibility of competing theories cannot be seen as residing in data which are equally well explained by all of them….The second objection to the scientist’s version is that the idea that experiment produces unequivocal fact is deeply problematic….scientists’ understanding of any experiment [or other observation] is dependent upon theories of how the apparatus performs, and if these theories change then so will the data produced. More far reaching than this, though, is the observation that experimental reports necessarily rest upon incomplete foundations.”

        Pickering’s conclusion is that all scientific theories (guesses) and experiments (observations) require judgements by scientists. And such judgements have a history and background that must be investigated to understand “scientific work.” Therefore, I do not want to fight the old theories in economics with new ones. Economic actors create economic theories and test them. It’s these “judgements” I want to reveal and describe. Not the theories and observations that economists make-up to explain them.

      • July 16, 2017 at 6:19 am


        As I pointed out to Yoshinori, theories are guesses. It’s the judgements upon which these guesses are based, and the history and background of these judgements that should interest social scientists who study economic actions and interactions. Civil lawyers may lose track of this sometimes in their work. Criminal lawyers never do.

      • July 16, 2017 at 8:34 am


        You are both pontificating and missing the point of Kuhn, Lakatos, Yoshinori and myself when you say (with Feynman and Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations”) that “theories are guesses”. Yoshinori concludes by seeing theories as sets of theories. I see pure and applied science ordered and brought to judgement by different logics, the former seeking reliable premises not by guessing but by informed insight or formal retroduction, the latter finding practicable applications and experiments by guessing and elimination and/or by formal deduction.

        You said you are familiar with Hanson. I wonder if you may be referring to the economist, whereas we are referring to a philosopher of science who just anticipated Kuhn (published 1958 vs 1962). I suggest you either get your head round our Hanson, Kuhn and Lakatos’s “Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge” (1970, Cambridge) or become more aware of your own form of “physics envy” and stick to being a lawyer.

      • July 16, 2017 at 12:48 pm


        What do you think “informed insight” and “retroduction” are? They’re guesses. Guesses based on judgements whose history and background I suggest ought to be a primary focus of social scientific study. You use words like “guessing and elimination and/or by formal deduction” glibly. In practice making comparisons and eliminating one set of observation as not confirming while choosing another set as confirming is filled with subtle and often difficult to see actions such as hunches, personal opinions, and informal educational experiences. These can’t be eliminated, so I suggest they be brought into the study of whatever scientific findings we’re trying to understand. This isn’t a radical position. It’s SST (social studies of science and technology) 101. Herein lies my primary disagreement with Hanson (N.R.). Hanson divides classical (somewhat settled) sciences from research (still evolving) sciences. This is an interesting division, but it misses much of how actual activity in either kind of science is conducted. Hanson’s philosophy is a limited view. That’s not a damning criticism since all views are limited. But I tend to see Hanson’s view as uninterestingly narrow. As to physics envy, I admit to admiring 21st century physics, not 19th century as economics does. But none of the sciences operate free of the impacts of judgements that fall outside the formal protocols of science. These protocols are not all that science is. I’ll stop pontificating now!

      • July 16, 2017 at 12:04 pm

        I may not be free from “physics envy” nor from “mathematics envy,” because I had an ambition to become a mathematician in my young days. But what I propose here is independent of my “physics envy.” Or, at least, it gives us a chance to reconsider our “physics envy.”

        If many of economists have envy to physics, they have envy of modern physics, i.e. Newtonian physics and much more modern physics of the 20th or 21st centuries. My proposal is to study Ptolemaic system and Copernican revolution before the establishment of the modern physics.

        The Ptolemaic system (c.150 to c.1600) continued about 1,500 years. I believe we can learn many lessons for economics and for social sciences from this history. For example, Ken Zimmerman once claimed that “I’ve said more than a few times that economics needs to begin from scratch.” (July 9, 2017 at 5:14 am) However, the history of astronomy teaches us that it is extremely difficult to begin from scratch. If we want to do it, it would take 2 or 3 centuries before arriving at the level (not the content) of Adam Smith. Sciences advance on the shoulder of the giants.

        Robert Locke (July 14, 2017 at 7:50 am) complained that economists are doing the dialog of the deaf. However, if he learns the long history of Ptolemaic system, he will know why most of contemporary economists do the dialog of the deaf. Imagine you are in medieval age. Even if you say just like Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo Galilei that the earth moves, nobody has ears to listen to your contention. Robert should know we are in a similar situation like Copernicus or Galilei.

        To change the Ptolemaic system, extraordinary efforts were required. Ken Zimmerman and Robert Locke (although they have very different opinions on how to advance social sciences) believe that they can achieve their aim without any efforts like Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Galilei and Johaness Kepler.

        If I add a history of physics (on earth), we know easily that it is not possible to construct “a social science” without making a long efforts in constructing individual sciences in each field. In the case of classical age, we know that Archimedes (c. 287 – 212 BC) had physics knowledge which is comparable to that of Galilei, the founder of the modern physics (in a narrow sense, i.e. science on the earth.) Ken Zimmerman’s plan to construct a unified social science (July 9, 2017 at 7:25 am) has no empirical basis. Even if I am a theorist rather than empirical researcher, my strategy (to bring down the neoclassical economics from the throne of mainstream economics) is empirically and historically better based.

        N.B. I have argued that the history of Ptolemaic system gives us a good reference of comparison when we examine what happened in the neoclassical revolution of economics and when we want to know how to compete with the neoclassical economics today. In section 4, I tried to situate The Neoclassical Revolution in a Wider Historical Context.

        See my paper An Origin of the Neoclassical Revolution: Mill’s “Reversion” and its Consequences. Shiozawa, et al. A New Construction of Ricardian Theory of International Values, Springer, 2017.

      • July 16, 2017 at 1:02 pm

        Where to begin in creating a new economics is an important question. When I said “begin from scratch” I mean that much of what many find objectionable in economics has a long history. How much of that history needs to be cut away to “make” economics relevant and focused on economic actors and actions primarily rather than mathematical models and elaborate equilibrium models? My view is most of that history needs to be scrapped.

        If Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo Galilei had not existed, how different would the history of physical science look? Don’t know. But it would be different. However, I don’t believe either man was essential for science to develop. The milieu of the age in which these men lived and worked lead to science. And would have done so I believe with or without these men.

      • July 16, 2017 at 4:23 pm

        Ken Zimmerman,

        You are again switching the topic. I am not talking about how different the history of physical science were when there are no Copernicus or Galilei. I am asking you to think what kind of difficulties Copernicus and Galilei faced. For example, you should think how it was difficult for them to escape from the yoke of circles.

      • July 17, 2017 at 1:34 am

        I’ve been working in the history of science for the last 10 years, so I know well the push back and persecution Copernicus and Galilei faced. But it was only partly related to their scientific positions. They also suffered because of fall outs with sponsors and conflicts with other scientists. And they generally suffered much less than artists, the literati, and physicians. The Church never opposed science except to the extent necessary to control scientists and the applications of science. The Church never burned a scientist, but it did regularly burn heretics, which included artists and authors. So, Copernicus and Galilei did not have it too tough. Add to this that the hypotheses they proposed were not new. Islamic scholars had offered the same hypotheses 200 years earlier. The newest evidence indicates that Copernicus copied from these scholars’ work. And while not widely known in Europe the work of such scholars was known to many of the educated and Church hierarchy. They likely were not surprised to see what Copernicus and Galilei said and published.

      • July 16, 2017 at 6:11 pm


        You wrote at 12:48 pm: “What do you think “informed insight” and “retroduction” are? They’re guesses”.

        So what you think a gestalt experience is? Newton didn’t just see gravity attracting apples to the ground. Knowing that explanation, he saw in an instant that the same phenomenon could also be explained by the apple and ground being attracted to each other, and found this model “better” in that it explained the celestial motions as a matter of course. As Hanson says, what better reason could there be for accepting it?

        And what do you think retroduction is? Do you see no difference between abstracting SOME of the detail from a descriptive model, or abstracting ALL of it? (So that what is left is only a methodology capable of describing it and a spacetime capable of containing it). Now I suppose you will tell me you already know all about Russell’s Paradox, the subsequent development of non-Aristotelian logics and the difference between Algol60 and Algol68; and I will have seen no reason to believe you.

      • July 17, 2017 at 1:06 am

        In other words, Newton played a hunch and a few hundred years later that hunch is still accepted by most physicists and astronomers. Great hunch, so far.

        Since I worked with PASCAL I know the general history of ALGOL60 and ALGOL68. Nothing more. But I know Russell’s Paradox well. Russell is one of by boyhood heroes. Began reading his books at age 11. Most interesting aspect of the Paradox for me is the solutions for it. These changed the rules of mathematics and logic to solve it. Interesting how flexible rules of mathematics and logic are.

      • July 17, 2017 at 6:26 am

        Ken Zimmerman (July 17, 2017 at 1:34 am),

        you have “been working in the history of science for the last 10 years.” Certainly you have been, but from a very specific viewpoint. You have been looking at the history of science from the political aspect. This is plausible for a lawyer of profession. But, this is also the reason why you do not understand the difficulty that human being face to get a new knowledge or a new theory once a scientific system entrenches in a society. In the present case, “a scientific system” is the Ptolemaic system.

        I asked in the above post (July 16, 2017 at 4:23 pm) to think “how it was difficult for them to escape from the yoke of circles.” You answered without giving any attention on what “the yoke of circles” stands for. Do you know this? Probably not, but this has no relation to persecution or political repression. It is an example how it was difficult for all astronomers from the time of Plato to Kepler to escape from the yoke of once established “truth”. This yoke continued working from generations to generations. Kepler could escape from the yoke at the later phase of his life, but had been a victim of this yoke when he was young. To innovate a theory requires a hard, continued and concentrated work. This is the real aspect of theorizing, and not that simple work of guessing as you are thinking of.

      • July 17, 2017 at 7:19 am

        Yoshinori Shiozawa, the history of science never focused exclusively on political foundations of science, even in the less robust history of science before 1970. As I’ve already said, the sociology and history of science focus on all the factors – from scientific training, to professionalism, to informal education, to friendships, to hunches, etc. – that are part of the process of “performing” science.

        Historians and sociologists of science have examined extensively the effects of institutions such as scientific theories have on both societies in general and on current scientists and their research. Much of this impact is tacit. Existing in “taken-for-granted truths” seldom opened up during research. I’m not certain what you’re referencing when you mention the “Ptolemaic” theory. Are you saying much of today’s society and science are still influenced by this theory or that Copernicus and Galileo had to contend with it? If the latter, I agree. This theory was based in the work of Aristotle, the basis of all knowledge in Europe for a thousand years. I understand that Copernicus and Galileo did not agree with it and fought to change it. But as I said, Islamic scholars had already done this work and many of the elite in Europe knew it was just a matter of time before this theory and the entire Aristotelian framework was jettisoned. The Church, the most powerful institution in medieval Europe wanted to control this process and ensure it did not harm the Church or its control over Europe. So, Copernicus and Galileo were not heretics, just disobedient Catholics. House arrest and forced recantations could control them. By the time Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, etc. came along the “yoke” of Aristotelian science was already beginning to break. The Church for all its desire to control the break-down of Aristotelian knowledge to protect itself, was more concerned about real heretics attempting to schism the Church. The Church was not concerned about the Sun vs. the Earth as the center of the universe. It only wanted time to create the change itself.

        “To innovate a theory requires a hard, continued and concentrated work.” Sometimes, yes. Sometimes no. Richard Feynman often said that hypothesis for testing can come from anywhere, even playing the bongos. Their source is unimportant. Only their testing is important. But you’re correct that in established fields such as evolutionary biology, current and historical research lead to hundreds of hypotheses. But only a small minority are tested. Question is: how is the small group for testing chosen? And that’s only the first question in the list. Next, how are they tested? In what order are they tested? Who performs the testing? What methods are used for testing? Etc.

      • robert locke
        July 17, 2017 at 8:40 am

        Yoshinori, Dave,

        To paraphrase: “When I see the word “markets” I reach for my revolver.” Historians have gained few insights from the neoclassical emphasis on individual behavior in the marketplace, for their work on economic history. When I studied for a Phd in European history, for the period after 1800, people were preoccupied with the rivalry of nation states and global regions (i.e., imperialism). Information about individual performance in market places did not help much to understand such rivalries, nor do they now when historians, politicians, businessmen, etc. emphasis these rivalries. This preoccupation has been going on for centuries.

        The chief economic preoccupation historians faced when considering great power rivalry in the 19th century was the part economic change played in shifting power relations. The decline of France as a dominant power, the rise of Germany in the late 19th nineteenth century, and the decline of British supremacy in late Victorian era. Not only were historians of my generation preoccupied with this, but it did not take long for us, through examination of historical evidence (parliamentary investigations, journals) to learn that people engaged in political and economic activity in the period being studied were principally concerned with how developments in the economy effected these relations.

        Economics, as “science”, entered this discussion with the rise of he New Economic History, under the influence of neoclassical economics and cliometrics, after WWII. The NEH proposed, by the use of the science of economics, to reinterpret the history of how economic development affected great power rivalries. I participated in that debate in the late 1970s and 1980s, the attempt of “scientists” using their methods to gainsay the opinion of people living at the time and historians subsequently through their “science” based on individuals behavior in markets. Google NEH, you’ll find out that this “scientific” effort was a failure. I discuss it to some extent in my book The End of the Practical Man, 1984, 2006, chapter one.

        The subject matter of economic history has been the rivalry of nation states and regions for the past 500 years. The preoccupation of economics with individuals and markets does not even permit people to focus on this subject matter.

      • July 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        Ken Zimmerman (July 17, 2017 at 7:19 am)

        Do you know that you are proving by yourself that your range of imagination is heavily biassed. Read the first paragraph of your post July 17, 2017 at 7:19 am. What is lacking in your focus?

        If history of science (not the sociology of science; they are very different disciplines) focuses exclusively on the factors “from scientific training, to professionalism, to informal education, to friendships, to hunches, etc.”, you are excluding the most important entity or driver in a history of science.

        A science is a system of theories (including and concerning concepts, observations, measurement, experiences, data, etc.) that seeks coherence. The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested. The latter are by-players and cannot and should not be a main player. Your history of science is really the tragedy (or rather comedy?) without the prince of Denmark.

        Your comment and questions in the second paragraph are missing the point again. Now I understand why you are repeating this kind of misplaced arguments. You pretend to have studied history of sciences (it may be true), but you have studied it through the looking glass of sociology of science.

        In the history of science there are specialists who are called externalists. They often give a new fresh air to the history of science. So I do not deny that they have some roles in the history of science(s). In the history of economic thought there are also externalists. Philip Mirowski is an example. On the opposite extreme of externalists, we have internalists. My paper on An Origin of the Neoclassical Economics is written from the internalist point of view. In this case, I questioned why John Stuart Mill was guided by an internal logic of the problem he wanted to solve (probably despite of his wish) to open a way to the neoclassical economics.

        If sociology of science can be included among the history of science(s), it belongs to the strand of externalists. It cannot be the core of history of science(s), because it lacks understanding of the main motive of scientific development.

      • July 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

        Yoshinori Shiozawa,
        Your views on the history and sociology of science are dated. In 1970, they would have been appropriate. But not today. Formally speaking the two are separate. Separate department offices, chair persons, class schedules. But in theory and practice the two work together closely today.

        You seem to believe that sciences are magical. That “systems of theories” can somehow take science and scientists out of human ways of life, human culture, and human societies. That’s not possible. So, the same factors that enter these enter science as well. To use the phrase favored by many sociologists of science, science is “constructed in interactions of humans with one another and with the non-human.” That includes the systems of theories you mention, as well as the methods, tools (language, including mathematics, cultural standards, etc.) that are the basis of scientific work. It also includes every variation of logic and formal analytic philosophy, from which notions of coherence and sense-making in science emerge. Your statement, “The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested” was rejected nearly 50 years ago by first sociologists and then historians of science. To accept it would mean accepting that science is somehow “supernatural” – beyond the bounds of human experience. Neat analogy with Hamlet. But by making it you undermine your entire argument.

        The last major article on the externalism-internalism debate in historiography was in 1992 by Steven Shapin. It’s not so much as the debate was won as that sociologists and historians lost interest in it. It’s not resolvable. But since the 1980s in practice the externalist position dominates most work in the history and sociology of science. So, your paper, if written from the internalist perspective is unusual. For example, the only way we can assume that John Stuart Mill was “guided” by an internal logic is to assume that Mill never participated in human communities, never engaged with his fellow humans, or with the world around him. From going to the Pub, to dating, to attending college, etc. As to the main motive of scientific development, there isn’t one I’m or most historians/sociologists are able to identify. I’ve worked with or observed work by a few hundred physical scientists. Most have multiple reasons for pursuing and building science. Most do not agree on what those motivations are or should be. Not surprising.

        Check out: Science in Action (1987), Bruno Latour; Laboratory Life (1979), Steven Woolgar and Bruno Latour.

      • July 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm

        Dear Robert Locke,

        I understand why you are so depressive and depressive all about economists and economics. I hope you will acknowledge that there are various types of economists and different economics. It is a pity that you know only neoclassical economics and cliometrics.

      • July 18, 2017 at 3:51 pm

        Yoshinori, in Ken’s response to your “The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested” it seems he (along with his Humean sociologists and philosophers of science) still hasn’t grasped that logic is not an external set of rules but a process internal to a system in which order matters and time is not reversible. In short folk are still has not grasping that C E Shannon’s seeing telephone exchange switching circuits obeying the rules of logic was an event as significant as Newton seeing gravity pulling the earth to his apple, initiating the extraordinarily successful information science which is now “the elephant in the room” whereof Ken and co. see only bits of its skin.

        Ken says “the only way we can assume that John Stuart Mill was “guided” by an internal logic is to assume that Mill never participated in human communities, never engaged with his fellow humans, or with the world around him.” On the contrary, what you said only makes sense if there are human interactions etc to be guided by the internal logic. The internal logic is the wiring of the computer, not the program learned from the world external to it.

        Had Ken responded by saying nurture is more important than nature the point could be debated. To repeat, what you actually said was “The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested”. His claiming your choice amounts to either nature or nurture is therefore not debateable: it is rubbish. Why is your position not rubbish? Here’s a thought from the other thread on “Money as Electricity”. If the CCTV is switched off there’s not much a computer can do about what’s going on “inside the world outside”.

      • July 19, 2017 at 12:21 pm


        The “processes” by which science and scientific ways of life are created is the same as the processes by which all ways of life are created. Per historian Yuval Noah Harari, “…science is not an enterprise that takes place on some superior moral or spiritual plane above the rest of human activity. Like all other parts of our culture, economic, political, and religious interests shape it.” And this shaping can be explicit (as in funding or choice of hypotheses to be tested) or tacit (as in the many relationships involved in learning to be a scientist or political events that force consideration of certain beliefs). Harari and others have noted that the feature or process that most characterizes homo Sapiens is “we make-up things.” In fact, human life is from top to bottom make-believe. The furthest we’ve taken our make-believing thus far is the invention of the notion of ignorance; from it the solution for that, science. This is a clip from the documentary, “The First Man” that considers how humans make-believe their lives. https://youtu.be/1uNIID5R4pM

        The rules of logic, systems of scientific concepts, mathematics, etc. – all make-believe. As an historian, my job is to consider how this make-believing creates what’s around us. As a sociologist/anthropologist my job is to consider how people use these make-believings. Humans don’t know in advance how or even if make-believing will be useful. But ultimately human make-believing continues to exist only as far as it is useful. Science has proven useful. But it’s also proven dangerous in terms of how it impacts human life and potential. Economics is a good example of the latter.

        As to your nature/nurture division, it is like all other dichotomies – imagined into existence by humans. Useful in certain areas of research. But I’m interested in how, when, why it was created, and why it is used as it is. I have the same interest in all aspects of science as an historian, and as a sociologist/anthropologist. The rules of computer logic, or symbolic logic, of mathematics exist and have shown themselves useful. But that’s not my interest in them. I investigate their creation via human imagination and the uses to which people choose to put them. You claim, “The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested.” But first this logic must be invented, imagined. And that is as Harari suggests “shaped by economic, political, and religious interests, tacit and explicit.”

      • July 19, 2017 at 1:13 pm

        Dave Taylor

        Logic is a subtle science. It was discovered in Classical Greece, but it was not formalized in any other areas in the classical age. Mathematics began also in Classical Greece and develped in Alexandrian age, but it did not developed as logical science in other areas until the Greek influence arrives. A typical case is East Asia which includes China, Korea and Japan. After the 17th century in Japan, geometry became a kind of intellectual hobby and many posed problems asking others to solve them. We can find very complicated problems which comprise a dozen of circles but the notion of proof did not develop in Edo period (before 1867). (Of course, this is a very rough description.)

        In my long life with various people, I came to understand that there are many people who never understand logic. Ernst Haeckel is famous by his recapitulation theory, i.e., “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” But we may not be able to apply his thesis to human thinking. It may not be correct to assume that everybody arrives at the logical stage. Some people may stay at the pre-logical stage even if they become adult.

        My personal experience taught me that it is often useless to argue with those people. Logical persuasion never works for them. My first experience was in my college student days. We talked about syllogism. I argued that syllogism is not based on experience and cited this case:

        Pig is mortal.
        Socrates is a pig.
        Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

        My colleague never understood that this is a correct syllogism. He insisted that this syllogism is wrong because the small premise is false.

      • July 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

        Yoshinori, thanks for your supporting argument. On a blog, it may be useless to argue with some people, but perhaps there are other readers able to understand and comment relevantly.

        On arrival “at the logical stage”, I’ve been interested in the development of logic both in the maturation of children and the development of data processing, and in my old age the logic of our and its evolution.

        An interesting book by Raymond Turner (a formal logician rather than technologist) on “Logics for Artificial Intelligence” sums up developments since 1904, when Bertrand Russell resolved his paradox with the idea of typed logics having truth values other than true and false, which in the same year a master of paradox, G K Chesterton, attributed to the brain having visual as well as verbal sides to its logic. Insofar as theorists tend to use the verbal side of their brain and engineers and women both sides, this all ties in with children learning to express emotions, actions, words and systematic thinking in that order, and the existence of systematic personality differences [maturing some types of skill but not others] as mapped by Myers-Briggs on the Jungian system.

        Says Turner: “The term ‘non-standard logic’ is a generic term which has been used to refer to any logic other than the claassical propositional or predicate calculus. Roughly, such logics can be divided into two groups: those that rival classical logics and those which extend it. In the first group we place the multi-valued logics, physical logic and intuitionist logic, while the second is to encompass modal and temporal logic[dealing with real possibilities and probabilities through time]. … Modal logic, for example, has been employed in the form of dynamic logic to facilitate the statement and proof of the properties of programs. … Intuitionist logic, in the form of Martin-Lof’s theory of types, provides a complete theory of the process of program specification. construction and verification”.

        What Shannon did in 1948 was invent a type of logic not to prevent the making of errors but to detect and correct errors as they occur, much as we visually pick up a typo. Although he showed how to do this digitally at a “micro” level, the system as a whole was what is called “analog” computing using feedback of information errors. This type of logic has to develop with time, because when one starts a process there has not been time for it to go wrong, and you may not yet see where it is likely to go wrong in future. Hence the PID structure I refer to.

        Incidentally, in a letter below you are bemused by your letters getting out of order. This seems to be because the system picks up the date stamp on the messages it receives, but doesn’t match up US and Japanese timezones with UK’s GMT.

      • July 19, 2017 at 7:33 pm

        Dave Taylor

        “{T}he development of logic both in the maturation of children and the development of data processing, and in my old age the logic of our and its evolution” must be very interesting topic.

        I have no knowledge on non-classical logic except for superficial knowledge on intuitionistic logic and fuzzy logic. Raymond Turner’s book seemed good because it is a thin, concise book. Unfortunately, it was out of print.

        I once learned Shannon but did not arrive to understand his theory. Thanks to your explanation, I came much closer to understand him.

    • July 18, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      I wonder why Ken’s post July 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm comes between two of my posts July 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm and July 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm. Is there any program miss?

      This is my response to Ken Zimmerman July 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm.

      Fifty years after 1970’s is a short time for sciences in general and for social sciences in particular. In these 50 years, did your history and sociology of science help to advance a science? It has helped to advance sociology of science, but not others.

      Sociology of science or anthropology of science revealed how once established regime continues to reign for a long time. But with that knowledge alone, sciences do not advance, at least at the time of crisis (I am not speaking of economic crisis but crisis of economics). After all, we know such kind of thing already in 1970’s. Leijonhufvud wrote a note Life among the Econ.

      (It appeared in Western Economic Journal in 1973 and reprinted as Chapter 12 of his book Information and Coordination, 1981. It was an amusing piece of paper and became very popular. Someone including me was encouraged by the paper but it gave us no hints to the contents of economics.)

      Do you know how the economics today is in crisis?

      Do you know a plan or prospectus to save economics from the crisis?

      The second question is my original question to you. Larrymotuz July 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm judged that “Ken has no prospectus. He has a point of view.”

      Please tell me how your sociology of science is helpful to go beyond the present crisis of economics!

      In your post July 9, 2017 at 5:14 am, you contended that it is your prospectus that “new economics needs to begin from scratch.” In your post July 9, 2017 at 7:25 am, you contended that “economics [should] be made into a social science.” Such a rough opinion does not give any suggestion to this imminent but long-dated question. You may make a sociology of economics out of your sociology of science but it does not help to bring economics out from the crisis.

      As for An Origin of the Neoclassical Revolution, have you given a look on it? I have described how he was guided by the “internal logic.” But it has nothing to do with what you imagine: “Mill never participated in human communities, never engaged with his fellow humans, or with the world around him.” There is no such contention. Do not apply your thesis without knowing (or even reading) what the “internal logic” is in this case.

      • July 19, 2017 at 12:28 pm

        Yoshinori Shiozawa

        Many scientists trained in the physical sciences have switched to the sociology and/or history of science. Primarily to improve the physical sciences by making them more aware of how the scientific process works and how physical science work is embedded in all aspects of societies. So, yes, the sociology of science has had major impacts on physical sciences. That’s even more the case for the social sciences where the sociology and history of science has reshaped the working relationships between the social sciences and helped social scientists recognize the limitations of their work. Admittedly, only recently has economics become an interest of sociologists and historians of science. But even in the short-term the sociology of science has changed the shape of research on economics and challenged economists to justify their scientific work and bona fides. For sociologists who study economics the crisis in the economics profession is its continuing inability to recognize that its contention that it only studies economic life is false. Economics is an active participant in creating these economic ways of life. Plan for economics: stop being blind to what you are, stop helping to create what you study, give up caring what forms people choose for economic ways of life. How about economics just become a science like all the others? The internal logic of neoliberalism. There are several fine descriptions of it. But as I’ve said, I’m more interested in how and why the logic was created and used. To do that I understand the founding creedos of neoliberalism. But knowing that is insufficient for investigating how and why that logic was created.

      • July 19, 2017 at 1:29 pm

        The crisis of economics is not the crisis of economic profession. You are always looking economics and others through the looking glasses of sociology of science.

      • July 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

        Okay, so you’re asking about the thing Homo Sapiens invented about 5,000 years ago, economics/economies? If so, it’s crisis is that our species made it to be simple. Simple just doesn’t work in a complex world. And now we’re struggling to make economics complex, and failing so far.

  7. dmf
    July 5, 2017 at 1:56 am

    Mark Blyth & Michael Roberts /Europe: Economic Crisis and Political Alternatives

    • July 6, 2017 at 7:13 am

      Enjoyed the video. For economists, the discussion was obviously compelling. Unfortunately, for many of those who populate and create economies each day much was omitted about the problems they see and the solutions they propose. And the selection process has a distinct group of biases. For example, bankers’ views of problems and solutions are considered. As is the profitability of private businesses. But not labor unions, churches, MDs, government bureaucrats, etc. Is it that these are considered irrelevant to the questions of “Economic Crisis and Political Alternatives in Europe” or is it just economists’ egos? I also note that the discussions, while sometimes critical of capitalism were framed in terms of capitalism. There are non-capitalist options, both in the narrowly economic sense and in the sense of how to make ordinary life work that could be offered for all the issues discussed. But Michael Roberts shirt was wonderful. And that’s a clear positive.

      • robert locke
        July 6, 2017 at 7:48 am

        “But not labor unions, churches, MDs, government bureaucrats, etc. Is it that these are considered irrelevant to the questions of “Economic Crisis and Political Alternatives in Europe””

        Mainline economists ignore these bodies in their analysis, although in Europe the role of labor unions and the co-determination laws and practices that include employees in firm governance are much more operative than in Anglo-Saxonia. How can an analysis about the economic crisis and political alternatives in Europe exclude community and alternative stakeholder forms of management from their purview without falsification of the analysis?

  8. July 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    What’s surprising to me is, even classical topics like banking and money, aggregate demand, and the role of markets are poorly understood. I don’t know how they’re taught, I haven’t taken a formal course in economics, but there’s plenty of confusion about these topics in policy-making and the press. Witness the Eurozone crisis being based on various false narratives of thrift, instead of aggregate demand or trade imbalances. You would think that knowledge of these topics would be squarely in the discipline, before we stretch out to the fluffy fringe of behavioural nudges and the like. But even on mainstream topics there’s apparent ignorance.

    Is that wilful blindness? It’s hard to escape that suspicion. Fallacies of composition, such as extolling thrifty workers and “value-creating” capitalists, benefit the elite. Promoting a pastoral understanding of money allows governments to pursue opaque policies, while hiding the true role of banks. Markets taught simplistically as commodity clearing houses, ignoring their main role as connectors of varied goods to varied needs. Businesses don’t operate in “efficient market” space anyway, but generate their own anti-competitive niches. Who does a naive or flatly untrue understanding of economics serve?

    • July 6, 2017 at 7:37 am

      Pavlos, great points. These relationships are complex. Economists sometimes, too often I think tend to treat them as straight forward and simple. Markets, for example. According to French economist Robert Guesnerie (1996), “…a market is a coordination device in which: a) the agents pursue their own interests and to this end perform economic calculations which can be seen as an operation of optimization and/or maximization; b) the agents generally have divergent interests, which lead them to engage in c) transactions which resolve the conflict by defining a price.” Consequently, says Guesnerie, “a market opposes buyers and sellers, and the prices which resolve this conflict are the input but also, in a sense, the outcome of the agents’ economic calculation.” This definition creates dozens of questions. What are “own interests?” What are “economic calculations?” What is optimization and how is it achieved? What are “divergent interests” and how are they created? How are buyers and sellers created? How is the object of the price negotiation created (commodification)? And there are more. The work to answer these questions for the actors involved in markets is important to these actors. It determines the success or failure of their efforts. Yet, many economists seem content with “off-the-cuff” answers drawn from one or another of their theories. Yes, this is ignoring the real world of the actors in markets.

  9. July 12, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    robert locke—i don’t think ‘physics envy’ is the sole problem—rather, its a symptom of a general problem called ‘envy’.

    (I personally have alot of envy of other ‘successful people’ which i at times can justify because i seem them as having ‘taken the easy way out’ –eg i studied ‘hard sciences’ like physics but was not cut out for research in that—i was too interdisciplinary which is seen as dilletantism (and in many cases rightly so) –other people i know have good jobs in science journalism because they never took much hard science. I may know more but am semi-unemployable, I also didn’t like the direction of alot science research–biotech, pharma, weapons, IT.
    I wasn’t into drug development; if i was into health fields i would focus on prevention–US TV ads seem like 50% ads for drugs, which may be why healtyh spending here is like 16-18% of GDP. (and may be why we need economic growth—see recent rwer article–health c osts can remain constant at 16% but with growing GDP we can get more and more treatements, in combination with more of all the things that make life good, and also sick—wars, junk food, addictions…)

    However its also true the successful people i envy at times basically played by the rules, worked hard in their own way, didnt have any grandiose dreams about making a scientific discovery or some pet theory or musical song they thought was good. i do music too—successful people in music i know don’t try to invent any new music—they play mozart, bheetovan, etc. or else are studio musicians who make music for TV commericials. They dont make any ‘hits’ like say ‘the beatles’ nor have big egos that think they can; they just do ads. )

    I happen to think all of economics –from its institutionalist side (like say Veblen and later people), and qualitative (shumpeter, smith, hayek, daly…) all the way to econophysics have value and relevance. its can be hard to respect what other people do especially if what you do doesnt get much respect (eg in the form of pay). (i was a bit like Marx—spent half my life in public libraries, and people even gave me a little office /storage space becauase they knew i made my living as a street musician–partly because i was too disorganized to hold a band together or even show up at gigs i had booked. i figured for my gigs people can just play music for themselves. i don’t really feel like entertaining a potentially hostile group of people. (i used to have right wing people throw beer bottles at me.)

    i see you taught in Hawaii–i visited there due to relatives–eg mauna loa falls near U Hawaii. kawaii crater… up to the top of the range—highly dangerous. i brought my guitar and a library with me but had to hide those when i could no longer carry them over cliffs, mudslides, etc.
    (alot of native hawaiians have mixed feelings about ‘howlies’.)

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