Home > Uncategorized > Economics becomes more precise and rigorous — and totally useless

Economics becomes more precise and rigorous — and totally useless

from Lars Syll

Nowadays there is almost no place whatsoever in economics education for courses in the history of economic thought and economic methodology. The standard view among mainstream economists is that students shouldn’t think about what they are doing, but just do it.

This is deeply worrying.

A science that doesn’t self-reflect and asks important methodological and science-theoretical questions about the own activity, is a science in dire straits. The main reason why mainstream economics has increasingly become more and more useless as a public policy instrument is to be found in its perverted view on the value of methodology.

How did we end up in this sad state?

Philip Mirowski gives the following answer:

philAfter a brief flirtation in the 1960s and 1970s, the grandees of the economics profession took it upon themselves to express openly their disdain and revulsion for the types of self-reflection practiced by ‘methodologists’ and historians of economics, and to go out of their way to prevent those so inclined from occupying any tenured foothold in reputable economics departments …

Once this policy was put in place, and then algorithmic journal rankings were used to deny hiring and promotion at the commanding heights of economics to those with methodological leanings. Consequently, the grey-beards summarily expelled both philosophy and history from the graduate economics curriculum; and then, they chased it out of the undergraduate curriculum as well.

Methodology is about how we do economics, how we evaluate theories, models and arguments. To know and think about methodology is important for every economist. Without methodological awareness, it’s really impossible to understand what you are doing and whyyou’re doing it. Dismissing methodology is dismissing a necessary and vital part of science.

Already back in 1991, a commission chaired by Anne Krueger and including people like Kenneth Arrow, Edward Leamer, and Joseph Stiglitz, reported from own experience “that it is an underemphasis on the ‘linkages’ between tools, both theory and econometrics, and ‘real world problems’ that is the weakness of graduate education in economics,” and that both students and faculty sensed “the absence of facts, institutional information, data, real-world issues, applications, and policy problems.” And in conclusion, they wrote that “graduate programs may be turning out a generation with too many idiot savants skilled in technique but innocent of real economic issues.”

Not much is different today. Economics — and economics education — is still in dire need of a remake.

Twenty-five years ago, Phil Mirowski was invited to give a speech on themes from his book More Heat than Light at my economics department in Lund, Sweden. All the mainstream professors were there. Their theories were totally mangled and no one — absolutely no one — had anything to say even remotely reminiscent of a defence. Being at a nonplus, one of them, in total desperation, finally asked: “But what shall we do then?”

rethinkYes indeed — what shall they do when their emperor has turned out to be naked?

More and more young economics students want to see a real change in economics and the way it’s taught. They want something other than the same old mainstream catechism. They don’t want to be force-fed with useless mainstream theories and models. Precision and rigour purchased at the expense of usefulness is worthless.

  1. April 4, 2019 at 7:59 am

    Lars Syll >> More and more young economics students want to see a real change in economics and the way it’s taught. They want something other than the same old mainstream catechism. They don’t want to be force-fed with useless mainstream theories and models.

    If so, why should we make more efforts to encourage young students to show what is more promising direction of research, to give them more hints for a new economics? Simply denouncing mainstream economics and economics church system is not sufficient. If history or economic thought and methodology or philosophy of economics are useful discipline, those engaged in those branches of economics should present possible future map when a revolution in economics comes about.

    In this post, Lars Syll argues mainly about academic practice and structure of selection. But, at the end, he suddenly switches his topic and contends that “Precision and rigour purchased at the expense of usefulness is worthless.” This is not a good argument. If he thinks this is important point of argument, he should explain why precision and rigor is purchased by spending what. Hopefully, it will be better if he could present an alternative research direction.

    • April 16, 2019 at 10:29 pm

      Sorry to tell you this, but Lars Syll is utterly uninterested in any following up upon any useful approaches that might advance the state of existing orthodox theory. It’s not as though he’s unaware that most of modern orthodox theory is theological: I.e., based on money value being the only standard of value for all things, including preferences.

      And, yes, his “Precision and rigour purchased at the expense of usefulness is worthless” is useless. Friedman first raised it years back to justify any and all a priori assumptions on the grounds of their ‘usefulness’ without ever demonstrating how anything so casually useless could possibly be useful.

      The primary difference between the Classics and todays Neoclassicals lies in the formers’ clear understanding that benefits from use were distinctly not the same as value-in-exchange: I.e., that commercial value was not a good indicator of the ‘usefulness’ of goods.

      Is Lars Syll aware of this? Of course he is. But his silence about this speaks loudly.

  2. Frank Salter
    April 4, 2019 at 10:50 am

    The intention of this blog is excellent but it may have been better to have dealt with specifics rather than vague generalisations. I attended a “Rethinking Economics” conference last weekend and found the main thrust to be pluralism. However this is merely to churn the same old failed hypotheses over again and again.

    In the blog methodology is mentioned but what is not, is that economic methodology is flawed and incomplete. What needs to be taught is the real scientific method:
    first principles analysis based on real axioms;
    the quantity calculus which invalidates the whole of erroneous neoclassical mathematical analysis and explains what fitted equations really mean;
    invalidation of all analysis which does not conform to the empirical evidence. That is apply Popper’s and Lakatos’ methods.

  3. Ikonoclast
    April 5, 2019 at 3:31 am

    Orthodox economics is worse than useless. It is highly dangerous.

    My reading of climate science indicates to me that current orthodox economic policies (given extant emissions growth) will lead, with a high degree of certainty,to dangerous climate change of over 2 degrees C. Indeed, it will probably lead to 3 to 5 degrees of C warming by as 2100. In other words, we are most probably doomed by the blind and unscientific ideology of mainstream economics and the fact that most people still believe the false axioms and deductions of said economics.

    Real scientists are terrified of recent empirical developments (these being faster and more serious than almost all model predictions) and they admit to it in private conversations. The built-in momentum of our growth path and the various accelerating feed-backs already look near certain to take us into dangerous, if not catastrophic territory. Orthodox economists tend, with a few notable exceptions, to live in a magic-pudding land where real systems pose no limits on the economic system. It’s strange they think this way since the real economy is a real system embedded in a real (biosphere) system.

    Orthodox economics continues to hypothesize “saving” features of the system to bolster its dogma: such as resources are effectively limitless, the economy can de-materialize and substitution possibilities are limitless. None of these are near true in the absolute. It is true that some key resources like oxygen, sunlight and water are effectively ubiquitous on a global scale, though the latter two are effectively lacking in some regions on a permanent or cyclical basis. Other key resources most definitely are limited including the climate and ocean systems’ ability to absorb anthropogenic CO2 emission without major climate disruption. The economy can only dematerialise in very limited part and all of that effect and more is eaten up by the Jevon’s Paradox or Effect. It’s not a paradox but a guaranteed effect under growth capitalism settings. Finally, substitution effects are real but far from limitless. Humans cannot substitute the need for potable water and nourishing food.

    Orthodox economists fail to think scientifically, when doing economics, even when they are otherwise scientifically literate. The reason is that orthodox economics is a dogma. Those educated in the dogma are intellectually invested in it and blind to the falsity of their own axiomatic-deductivist system.

    Of course, all orthodox economists dismiss such heterodox ideas as crank objections to the one true and received doctrine of orthodox economics. Really, such persons are in the position of the Church elders when they opposed Galileo and the Prussian scientific establishment (parts of it at least) when they opposed Einstein’s theories of relativity. They are on the wrong side of history, philosophy and science.

    Still it moves! History moves. Science moves. The search for truth moves on… and some (many in fact) are getting badly left behind in this intellectual progress. They need to re-examine their axiomatic a priori assumptions. Axiomatic philosophical and logical errors, along with an un-empirical orientation, are problems not limited to Austrian Economics. In a slightly different form, they are the founding errors of classical economics and all the schools which depend on it.

    Most orthodox economists will never change their views. They have intellectually ossified into an unchangeable position. We can only wait for them to retire or pass on. We can only wait for radically new and alarming events (lamentable but unavoidable) to change the public’s paradigm perception radically. This may sound passive or quietist. However, it is not so. Much intellectual work still needs to be done. The theoretical and research fields have to be progressed to develop a humane, democratic, ecological aware and empirical form of economics or political economy. The heterodox traditions will come to the fore. Which specific heterodox tradition or amalgam thereof will come to the fore and be effective (in saving the biosphere and civilization quite frankly) is not yet entirely predictable.

    Much more advocacy work needs to be done. The public needs to become educated and scientifically literate again after the long dumbing down process neoliberal ideology has inflicted on the them. Then there is peaceful, democratic activism. That has to burgeon too. This will be a long slow, gathering process until a punctuation point or rapid resetting of the current deceptive equilibrium (or status quo) occurs. Then events will move rapidly. People need to be as prepared as possible to “panic slowly” as John Ralston Saul puts it. “Panic slowly” means you properly feel the tremendous urgency to act (internal panic) but still act with deliberate thought and good sense not forgetting preparations, principles of practical action and ethical precepts.

    • Rob
      April 6, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Once again I think you are hitting the nail on the head. A recent (fruitless) exchange with an American Doctor in economics confirms your claim many are intellectually ossified.

  4. April 5, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Heterodox ideas got no space in mainstream schools. About the only universuty that championed something heterodox was the University of Kansas which was a hotbed for Modern Monetary Theory. MMT. Today about 6 phd’s graduate annually from it and all are in demand for postings around the country.
    Traditionalists are positively frantic in their opposition, busily building straw men to dismantle with arguments not reflecting MMT. Their parlous position is starting to lose them support. We hope that MMT will be treated as the explanatory theory Economics needs.
    I think MMT owes a debt of gratitude to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who has brought it to attention in Congress, along with her Green New Deal ideas.
    Soon opposition will peter out and that will signal the fracturing of Neo-liberal economics which has so evilly damaged society for 40 years. That end can’t come soon enough!

  5. April 9, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I very much want to get in touch with you. Please send me your email.Robert Skidelsky

  6. April 11, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    My experience with studying economics is, it is lacking study of History, Philosophy, Human Behavior and sociology. Everything needs to be proven through data, but great economists of past used critical thinking without any econometric tools.

  7. Ken Zimmerman
    April 12, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Assessed in terms of the complexities of human life and society, economists “doing the right thing” is not difficult. Observe people and the things they create and use. If your interest is resources for survival and a reasonable quality of life, which is generally labeled as economics, then observe how people try to create these things and how they succeed and fail. Make certain you consider your own actions in relation to these questions. In other words, are you impeding or distorting the story of people’s actions, or does your work facilitate telling the story as people create it? Asking and answering these questions is part of practicing science, if that is the profession you want to pursue. Choosing to be a propagandist or priest still require reflection, just of another sort. Propagandists must reflect on the effectiveness of their techniques to convince people to believe what the propagandist wants them to believe. And priests must reflect on the extent to which their actions convince people to accept god and god’s commandments. Economists need to decide which of these roles to pursue. So far, it seems they want to pursue all three, as each enhances and improves their professional standing. Economics is a multiple-choice test, a mixture of this and that. No real foundation in anything.

    However, this is a problem that infects many in all the modern “professions.” Consider the law for example. During the Bush II administration lawyers within the administration wrote “legal” memos not just justifying torture but providing ready made “legal” defenses for American soldiers and agents who engaged in it. When asked why smart and educated professional lawyers would write such immoral memos, their defense was, “we were following orders to explain the LEGAL status of torture. Right and wrong, morality, and even American values were beyond the scope of this job.” And there are many other examples. Medical doctors, business executives, engineers, scientists, etc. It’s seems more and more Americans want to just “do the job,” and damn the side effects. That’s not a good formula for democracy.

  8. Rob
    April 12, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    During the Bush II administration lawyers within the administration wrote “legal” memos not just justifying torture but providing ready made “legal” defenses for American soldiers and agents who engaged in it. When asked why smart and educated professional lawyers would write such immoral memos, their defense was, “we were following orders to explain the LEGAL status of torture. Right and wrong, morality, and even American values were beyond the scope of this job.” And there are many other examples. Medical doctors, business executives, engineers, scientists, etc. It’s seems more and more Americans want to just “do the job,” and damn the side effects. That’s not a good formula for democracy. ~ Ken Zimmerman

    Such amoral reasoning used by those who claim “we were following orders” and/or we were just “doing the job” would have made perfect Nazis. Don’t let anyone say it cannot happen here (i.e., the US), because it already is happening on many levels.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      April 13, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Rob, quite right. What motivated people to become killers in the Holocaust? These were not Nazis. Neither were they sadists and many were not antisemitic. The story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 shows that even when given a choice to opt out, ordinary people went on to commit atrocities. Three weeks after arriving in Poland, the Battalion was sent to the village of Józefów, home to 1,800 Jews. The commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp addressed his men, crying as he gave orders. He ordered his men to round up all the Jews living in this village as there had been reports that they were involved with the local partisans. He ordered Jewish men be separated so they could be sent off to a work camp. Trapp ordered that the women, children, and elderly be taken aside and shot – adding that while he did not like what they had been asked to do, it would make it easier if they remembered that, back home in Germany, bombs were falling on women and children. More generally, these ordinary men were simply defending their nation and their families by murdering Jewish women, children, and elderly. Something they did repeatedly during the war. Neither Trapp nor any of the men of the Battalion were prosecuted after the war ended.

      In the NY Times today conservative columnist Bret Stephens argues that in our time shame has been annihilated. The lines between fame and infamy have been blurred, and both can be monetized. Personal disgrace can be explained away as a form of victimization by a greedy corporation, an unloving parent, systemic social forces — or with the claim, possibly true, that nearly everybody does it. Shame is neither sin nor folly. It is what people are supposed to feel in the commission, recollection or exposure of sin and folly. In days bygone, the prescribed method for avoiding shame was behaving well. Or, if it couldn’t be avoided, feeling deep remorse and performing some sort of penance. The annihilation of shame requires two things. First, nerve: lying to everyone including oneself without emotional breakdown is difficult. For most of us it’s impossible. But it also takes public acquiescence. Germans were trained for both by the Nazis using WWI persecutions of Germany as the starting point. Today Americans are being trained for both by our versions of the Nazis. Trump’s actions have made this scheme clear, probably for the first time since it began at the end of America’s Progressive Era.

      • Rob
        April 15, 2019 at 3:15 am

        Thanks Ken, I learn much from the dialectic you and Robert bestow upon this blog’s comment section. If I had more time I would try, to the extent I can, to contribute in kind. I think you are right that this is war (i.e., the banks) and this very generation is faced with exigent, if not existential threat to civilization posed by predatory capitalism (largely ideologically supported by mainstream economics). The Econocracy (mainstream economics hereafter, ME) are deaf, dumb, and blind, as a recent exchange I had with a Doctor in Economics so starkly revealed, and will be no help but only hindrance in this social reconstruction needed if humanity is to dodge another dark ages.

        In my view, ME is in service ultimately of a form of mercantilism and militaristic nationalism. All the 19th century rhetoric that capitalism (globalization) would lead to peace is proving empty if we continue down this path.

        ME by it’s very nature is a zero sum game. Eventually, without a meta-narrative transcending mere “self-interest” (which today is largely a peculative enterprize with zilch enlightenment) the interggnum of wisdom will ensure swiftly bringing things back into the great leveling.

      • Rob
        April 15, 2019 at 3:17 am

        I meant “interregnum of wisdomless economic striving”

      • Rob
        April 15, 2019 at 5:42 am

        Addendum: I believe there will be a plurality of meta-narratives that contribute to the needed social and economic reforms. That is why it is important not to become dogmatic about one’s own favored narrative. Each inevitably excludes and/or overlooks some viewpoint another facet shines a light upon. We must win over through pursuasion those who may not see eye-to-eye with our own cherished views.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 16, 2019 at 10:27 am

        Rob, self-interest is not only an inadequate basis for any civilization, as it omits most of what’s important in preserving the civilization but makes productive interaction and deliberation impossible. Thus, ensuring that the civilization will not survive and will do great harm before it expires. If I understand properly your references to meta-narratives, it’s my view such narratives will not help. What’s needed, in my view is multiple narratives and a process for the narratives to play off one another, under pressure.

      • Rob
        April 16, 2019 at 12:04 pm

        You have a point. Remove “meta” and I think we are in total agreement.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 16, 2019 at 12:06 pm

        Rob, sounds like a plan, as they say, to me.

      • Rob
        April 16, 2019 at 12:20 pm

        I am in complete agreement that “self-interest” is an inadequate foundation for a sustainable civilization. Especially in today’s world of ever increasing complexity, interconnect dependency, accelerating social change, etc. It is not even an adequate concept biologically in light of what we know now from systems biology.

        I am not at liberty to give specifics, but the idea that only “self-interest” matters in business is considered ignorant and unsustainable in the business context here in Japan as articulated from the top. There is a recognition that for business to be sustainable it must serve more than just what the consumer wants, but must serve real needs of communities, society, nation, and world. When a people and it’s leaders lack vision that is in my view a failing civilization.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 16, 2019 at 1:27 pm

        Rob, excellent comment. Self-interest simply refers to the individual’s interest, apart from the interest of any other individual, or the community, in whole or in part. I posted this in another conversation. It certainly fits here. In contrast to economists, anthropologists often assume that humans are connected or communal beings who build and destroy relationships, and who communicate by language and material things. To be human means being a person constructed in mentality, communication and relationships with humans and nonhumans. To act as a separated individual without communal connections, as in impersonal market trade, is a practice taken only in relation to sociality and culture, on which it depends. But building an economics on this anthropological presumption requires a new set of conceptual tools. The implications of this argument for notions about alienation, equality, property, development, modernization and well-being, as well as how we conduct ourselves and justify other forms of economy, are considerable.

      • Craig
        April 15, 2019 at 7:03 pm

        If one studies paradigm changes they find that the actual operation(s) that effects the paradigm change itself is always simple. The inversion of the positions of the earth and the sun, Nomadic existence to homesteading/urbanization, Debt Only to monetary gifting. It’s just that, that particular operation is so profound that it cuts through most of the theretofore seemingly necessary complexities and false orthodoxies. Reforms are complex, shallow and reversible operations. Paradigm changes are simple, deep and permanently progressive ones.

        Considering that the paradigm of Debt Only has been in affect for the entire history of human civilization the new one of monetary gifting is of paramount importance. That we don’t see it and act upon it is telling. And as I write this Notre Dame cathedral burns as people spectate and firefighters cannot reach it. How emblematic of modern civilization’s unconsciously dis-integrative state.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 16, 2019 at 10:48 am

        Craig, as I’ve said before using a paradigmatic view is in my view not very useful. At best paradigm is a social construct that is not or over which there is much dispute as to meaning. I know the meaning Kuhn gives the term, but he’s does give a lot of detail about it use in situations. If you’re really interested in understanding a “gifts and return gifts” culture I suggest you read Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift.” Here are few notes on the book. “This work is part of a wider study. For some years our attention has been drawn to the realm of contract and the system of economic prestations between the component sections or sub-groups of ‘primitive’ and what we might call ‘archaic’ societies. On this subject there is a great mass of complex data. For, in these ‘early’ societies, social phenomena are not discrete; each phenomenon contains all the threads of which the social fabric is composed. In these total social phenomena, as we propose to call them, all kinds of institutions find simultaneous expression: religious, legal, moral, and economic. In addition, the phenomena have their aesthetic aspect and they reveal morphological types.”

        “We intend in this book to isolate one important set of phenomena: namely, prestations which are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, but are in fact obligatory and interested. The form usually taken is that of the gift generously offered; but the accompanying behaviour is formal pretence and social deception, while the transaction itself is based on obligation and economic self-interest. We shall note the various principles behind this necessary form of exchange (which is nothing less than the division of labour itself), but we shall confine our detailed study to the enquiry: In primitive or archaic types of society what is the principle whereby the gift received has to be repaid? What force is there in the thing given which compels the recipient to make a return? We hope, by presenting enough data, to be able to answer this question precisely, and also to indicate the direction in which answers to cognate questions might be sought. We shall also pose new problems. Of these, some concern the morality of the contract: for instance, the manner in which today the law of things remains bound up with the law of persons; and some refer to the forms and ideas which have always been present in exchange and which even now are to be seen in the idea of individual interest.”

        Published in 1950, this study by Mauss began the study of gift giving and receiving cultures in anthropology. That focus continues among anthropologist to this day.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 16, 2019 at 10:54 am

        Craig, sentence should read, “I know the meaning Kuhn gives the term, but he does not give a lot of detail about its use in situations.”

      • Craig
        April 16, 2019 at 6:17 pm


        As a paradigm is an entire pattern, it IS everything, at least in the area of human endeavor it applies to. The problem is not the details, the complexities, nearly as much as first recognizing the single concept of the new paradigm (helio-centrism, urban civilization, direct and reciprocal monetary gifting) and then aligning policy and regulation with the concept of the new paradigm which is then an almost entirely straightforward rational process.

        That beats the erudite duncery of regurgitating orthodoxy, iconoclasm or scientific fine points forever and ever amen while civilization disintegrates.

        Kuhn, like nearly everyone else, was trapped in the scientific viewpoint because the paradigm of valid inquiry is currently Science Only. When one cognites on the fact that the cosmos is in a state of grace (chaos from the Science Only perspective) and that aspects of the utterly interactive, integrative concept of the natural philosophical concept of grace are behind every historical paradigm change…is when one realizes that wisdom is real and science is merely a subset of it. Science needs a paradigm change, an epistemological integration that expands, completes and edifies it.

        In order to be free one must integrate past their own obsessive iconoclasm. Wisdom is where the wasteland ends, not where it wanders off into delusion and dogmatism.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 17, 2019 at 9:30 am

        Craig, culture is “the entire pattern.” This “base (material and ideological)” is the entire pattern for any group. Paradigms are rooted in a culture. Any culture will have many paradigms within it. Some, a great many. Gifting is certainly one of these paradigms. And in some parts of the world and in world history there are many examples of entire cultures based on gift giving and receiving. So, a gift-centered economy is not unheard of even in industrial societies. A culture doesn’t change quickly and certainly it seldom changes in any significant degree from just addition or subtraction of a paradigm. For example, European cultures did not change from Christian-centric to science-centric from just the addition of helio-centrism. Plus, helio-centrism had been a part of European cultures for 200 years before it had any significant impact on those cultures. The impacts on European cultures of the addition or subtraction of other paradigms were more immediate. Such as the expansion of commercial ways of life. But even today these have not entirely remade some aspects of European cultures. Witness the responses to the fire at Notre Dame. Very few about “bidding” to fix the Cathedral. And a great many mourning the loss of a Christian holy site and the need to ask God’s guidance in responding to the tragedy.

      • Craig
        April 17, 2019 at 9:46 pm

        “A culture doesn’t change quickly and certainly it seldom changes in any significant degree from just addition or subtraction of a paradigm.”

        The Copernican Cosmological paradigm change took place in the tiny area of astronomy and the strictly mental area of religious orientation. Thus its effects while truly significant weren’t immediately felt or understood by the entire populace.

        However, a culture changes very quickly if the area of human endeavor/body of knowledge the paradigm change occurs in effects everyone in a fundamental, vital and everyday way, and a monetary, financial and hence economic paradigm change, because everyone is bound to it in such ways, would have precisely that kind of immediate effect.

        I don’t know if your reference to addition or subtraction meant the changing of one paradigm to another or whether it was a reference to the subtraction and addition function of the discount/rebate policy. As I just stated if the area that the paradigm change takes place in effects virtually everyone in a continuous fashion then the new one will also have such immediate effects. So far as the simple mathematical operations of the policy are concerned the simplicity of them is not why they are powerful, but rather because the operations occur at a pivotally significant ending, summing and economic factor expression point in the entire economic/productive process, namely where production becomes consumption, and hence its effects are so macro-economically final and significant. And their effects resolve the two major problems that plague modern economies and that heterodox economists say they want to solve, namely price and asset inflation and individual and systemic monetary scarcity.

        And all macro-economists and pundits have to do to see this is exit the abstract fugue they so often fall into….and actually LOOK at it present time empirical, mathematical and universal effects.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 19, 2019 at 1:49 pm

        Craig let’s consider two examples on paradigm change in relation to cultural change. First, merchants and others with a commercial paradigm began asserting themselves against aristocrats, the church, and feudalism in the 13th and 14th centuries. They made little progress until industrialism developed (technology changes). But in combination with industrialization they invented “liberalism” to push and justify their agenda. By the early part of the 19th century liberalism and commercialism were the rules of the society, its primary culture in the UK and shortly thereafter in the US. These changes required over 400 years to gain control. And that was against an aristocracy that had lost the trust of most, a church ripped by scandals, and collapsing feudalism. This is one way a paradigm can remake an entire culture. Second, in the early 8th century Islamic forces conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula, including modern day Spain and Portugal. The Islamic rule lasted until the early 18th century. So, did all the Christians convert to Islam? No. While the three major monotheistic religious traditions certainly did borrow from one another in Muslim-ruled Spain, benefiting especially by the blooming of philosophy and the medieval sciences in the Muslim Middle East, it remains uncertain if Muslim-rule was genuinely “pluralistic.” But even if not wholly pluralistic, Muslim Spain and Portugal were more tolerant of religious and ethnic differences than the Visigoth kingdom that preceded them. People of other religions could contribute to society and the culture developed in this time. The Muslim Empire did not enslave any non-Muslim groups under its rule nor influence them to convert to Islam. Legally all were citizens of the caliphate. The appearance of Sufism on the Iberian Peninsula is especially important because Sufism’s “greatest shaykh,” Ibn ‘Arabi, was himself from Murcia (a city in Southeastern Spain). So, here’s a situation where cultures were combined for major parts of life. Meaning some elements of culture before the conquest changed, while others did not.

      • Craig
        April 19, 2019 at 6:51 pm


        I wouldn’t dispute any of the history you cite. My question to you is do you see the immediate temporal universe, empirical and agent universality potentials of the discount/rebate policy at retail sale and the even more dramatic and wide spread effects of combining that policy with a universal dividend to everyone 18 and older as well as the various regulations, incentives and disincentives I have posted here before?

        In other words do you recognize that something that immediately effects virtually everyone and every enterprise monetarily for the better is different from a paradigm change that is essentially mental (Copernican) because its universal and temporal, i.e. it happens TO EVERYONE RIGHT NOW?

        And if its policies resolve the two major problems that heterodox economists recognize are chronic in modern economies, scarcity of individual income/business revenue and inflation, why in the hell aren’t the smartest economists falling all over themselves agreeing with what I’m suggesting? Well, that’s obvious, it’s because they’re either not looking at what I’m saying and/or their minds are still trapped in the old paradigms of Debt Only and Scarcity instead of the new paradigms of Monetary Gifting and Abundance.

      • Craig
        April 19, 2019 at 8:00 pm

        And by the way, to those who would fall for the argument that radical change is risky, even though an authentically new paradigm IS earth shaking and radical it will still affirm the old saw that the more things change the more they stay the same. In other words even though a new monetary, financial and economic paradigm increases freedom dramatically it will still need to obey the common ethics that self awareness and genuine awareness of others binds us to….it’s just that so much more consciousness will have been brought to economic theory and hopefully awareness that in the temporal and human universes there is only freedom amongst KNOWN barriers.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 20, 2019 at 10:15 am

        Craig, you seem to see everything working out as you suggest. As an historian and an anthropologist, I know that seldom happens. The policy changes you suggest may work and have the effect you describe, but that’s unlikely. Some humans have been working to create universal suffrage for at least 1,000 years. We still don’t have it. Such suffrage is opposed by many who either fear its results or fear loss of position, power, or wealth if it is created. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander. Making a better life for our species is difficult to even define. Speaking historically and sociologically it’s unlikely there will ever be agreement on what it is or how to achieve it. We must consider the specific history of “good ideas.” Conservatives, like socialists are wrong about many things. But they are not wrong that the “road to hell is often paved with good intentions.” By this I mean societal-level changes, cultural changes, if not imposed by monarchs, autocrats, or war must be worked out over long periods between all the members of the society, many of whom do not like or trust one another, or actively hate one another. This was the genius of ancient China. When invaders came (e.g., Mongols) China “absorbed” them. After a few generations the Mongols were Chinese.

        As to your second point, how do you conclude there is a “common ethics that self awareness and genuine awareness of others binds us to?” Humans are indeed aware of one another. But that can lead to murder as well as respect and may be disingenuous as well as genuine. Figuring out how this comes out as it does is the job of historians.

      • Craig
        April 21, 2019 at 1:33 am


        “The policy changes you suggest may work and have the effect you describe, but that’s unlikely.”

        They absolutely will immediately more than double everyone’s potential purchasing power (along with the universal dividend) and much more. That is a mathematical and temporal universe reality of the policies themselves. Now will regressive forces try to undermine their positive effects for every individual and commercial agent? Of course. That’s why you’ll need the rest of the policies, structural changes and regulations I lay out in my book. And if you have to create a department of the Bully Pulpit and Boycott to chastise thel attempts to thwart such incredible and unprecedented benefits by anti-social bankers and commercial agents to (slightly) de-stabilize the system by inflating their prices…even though they are beneficiary of the more than doubling of individual income/business revenue by those policies….then so be it. Let them lose the good will that is necessary for an enterprise to survive….and a large part of their market share as well to the honest and ethical businesses that abide by the regulations benefiting them even further if they do not raise their prices or even cut them further in responsible ways.

        You need to read my book and get all of the ways it integrates seamlessly into the economy. I’ve long passed my 60+ years of cynicism. It’s irrelevant in view of the benefits and urgent necessity of paradigm change.

        Human self awareness is the foundation of all human ethics because the more self aware you are the more you realize that all humans (whatever their level of self awareness may be) are of the same basic nature as yourself and so deserve ethical consideration. It’s entirely a level of epistemological awareness question.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 23, 2019 at 8:57 am

        Craig, look at Lars Syll’s posting on “radical uncertainty.” It applies to your proposals as well as all others. No escape from it. The paradigm you suggest may perform as you outline. Speaking historically, from the vantage of radical uncertainty, that’s not a good bet.

      • Craig
        April 23, 2019 at 11:52 pm

        Look, we don’t need another regurgitation of already affirmed and confirmed heterodox critique of present orthodoxy. We need action that has a clear vision forward toward change. That is what everyone here beside myself lacks. I’ve heard Steve Keen say over and over that we need a new paradigm, or a new philosophy in economics…and then go right back to critiquing the orthodox. I’m not against that, but we have to move forward. The truth is no one knows how to move forward with confidence BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THE CONCEPT OF THE NEW PARADIGM IS. HENCE THEY CANNOT VISUALIZE IT AND CRAFT POLICY AROUND IT.

        Unconsciousness is a mental immovable object unless you know how to break through and dispel it. Even Steve Keen whose main critique of DSGE is it ignores money, debt and banks looks directly at the main components of the present paradigm….but still doesn’t know how to discern the new one. If you read my book you learn the historical signatures of all imminent and accomplished new paradigms so you can use them to discern the new one.

        Enough with mere intellectualism. We need action, enlightened and wise action.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 24, 2019 at 10:23 am

        Craig, I agree. We need action, enlightened and wise action. The question I have is how do we ensure that our actions are wise and enlightened? The answer. We must have an open and detailed discussion to reach a consensus on actions that are wise and enlightened to change the priorities and objectives of economics as a discipline and economists as a moving force in society. And you and I must recognize and accept that the results of these deliberations may not reflect what either you or I prefer.

      • April 27, 2019 at 7:39 am

        There is a new paradigm. I’ve explained it numerous times. It requires objectively measuring benefits from consumption in objective units (not ‘utility’ or merely in monetary units.) But most here don’t understand enough orthodox economics to accept just how unorthodox this new paradigm I’ve advanced is. That’s why I no longer post its elements on this site.

        Over years, I did.

        No one really wants a new paradigm it seems. They talk about wanting one incessantly. I’ve given up being heard over the talk.

        In the new paradigm, both people and ‘firms’ are users (consumers) of good to obtain defined objective benefits from those goods in their particular uses.

        In the new paradigm, life forms called human beings exist. In the new paradigm, actual and measurable benefits matter to people. From the new micro that emerges when human beings obtain ‘goods’ to obtain benefits, a new macro emerges because, in the new paradigm, the distribution of income forcefully steers the actual and potential growth path of economies.

        In the new paradigm, money matters because exchange into and out of money means that across all goods, makes for the illusion that, in isolation, px*x=py*y=pz*z across all goods a, b, c … x,y,z, an illusion that the introduction of ‘preferences’ or ‘utility’ hides throughout neoclassical analysis.

        It’s possible to bring in preferences for how one would prefer to obtain benefits. But, ‘preferences’ will ‘normally’ be sacrificed to obtain benefits unless one has such a high level of income that one can usually consume whatever one wants at prevailing prices.

        And that’s why I’ve given up here.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 27, 2019 at 1:01 pm

        Larry, this sounds worthwhile. Certainly, worth a tryout. But economics isn’t necessary for this work. The paradigm you suggest rejects economics as it is defined today. Consequently, the paradigm you suggest would fit better in anthropology, ecology, or even public policy.

      • April 27, 2019 at 9:03 pm

        The fact that life forms have physical needs, many of which can only be realized by using goods in particular ways to obtain particular benefits naturally extends itself through all branches of knowledge, Ken. I’m well aware that what I’m talking about isn’t merely ‘economic’. But, insofar as possible for me to do, I’ve confined myself to the economics of consumption/use (of goods/services) at the level of individuals and in aggregates to examine how the price system (defined in a medium of exchange for everything under the sun) affects what goods are purchased to obtain what benefits from and why. I’ve looked at ‘utility’ as use-values dependent upon particular uses, and, in so doing, constructed measures showing positive and negative utility.

        But I’ve been forlorn here because no one appears to understand what economics I’ve addressed as nonsense.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 28, 2019 at 9:19 am

        Larry, this sounds like Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and other “ecological economists.” Georgescu-Roegen’s work was seminal in establishing ecological economics as an independent academic sub-discipline in economics. He is best known today for his 1971 magnum opus on The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, in which he argued that all natural resources are irreversibly degraded when put to use in economic activity. Early in his life, Georgescu-Roegen was the student and protégé of Joseph Schumpeter, who taught that irreversible evolutionary change and ‘creative destruction’ are inherent in capitalism. Later in his life, Georgescu-Roegen was the teacher and mentor of Herman Daly, who then went on to develop the concept of a steady-state economy to impose permanent government restrictions on the flow of natural resources through the world economy. In addition providing the framework for ecological economics, the degrowth movement that formed in France and Italy in the early-2000s recognizes Georgescu-Roegen as the main figure influencing the movement.

  9. Robert Locke
    April 13, 2019 at 8:41 am

    “Economists like to think in terms of “the laws of economics” rather than the “social constructs of economics”.”

    Why the dichotomy. It is entirely possible to think of economics as both, because no science of economics is 100% reality applicable, and to the extent that economics is social constructs (say 10% and 90% science), then the social constructs have to be taken into consideration when doing the science, and vice-versa. How, by making sure that the social constructs are at the table when doing the science. It is not hard, if co-determination guides efforts at scientific activity.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      April 13, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      Robert, you create an unnecessary dichotomy. It’s already been created by people in their ordinary lives in dealing with questions of science, economics, and daily living. These social constructs are humans’ way of making sense of events and agents they experience routinely. Social constructs are “explanations” of these events and agents, including how these relate to and interact with one another. Science, economics as a discipline, everyday economics, economics as science – all social constructs. How do people create these constructs, how do people change them, and most importantly how do they use them?

      • Robert Locke
        April 13, 2019 at 4:11 pm

        You are probably right, but people trained in business science have an advantage when talking to workers’ representatives that are not so trained, which in German co-determination is recognized by recruiting workers’ representatives with the business science training management people have.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        April 14, 2019 at 10:16 am

        Good point, Robert. A large part of getting things done is understanding both oneself and those with whom one is negotiating.

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