Home > Uncategorized > On the irrelevance of economics

On the irrelevance of economics

from Lars Syll

I believe that as an economic theorist, I have very little to say about the real world and that there are very few models in economic theory that can be used to provide serious advice. However, economic theory has real effects. I cannot ignore the fact that our work as teachers and researchers influences students’ minds and does so in a way with which I am not comfortable. Can we find a way to be relevant without being charlatans?

stunAs economic theorists, we organize our thoughts using what we call models.
The word “model” sounds more scientific than “fable” or “fairy tale” although I do not see much difference between them. The author of a fable draws a parallel to a situation in real life. He has some moral he wishes to impart to the reader … Being something between fantasy and reality, a fable is free of extraneous details and annoying diversions …

We do exactly the same thing in economic theory … We perform thought exercises that are only loosely connected to reality and that have been stripped of most of their real-life characteristics.

Ariel Rubinstein

  1. Rob
    September 5, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Powerful. Thank you Lars.

  2. Yoshinori Shiozawa
    September 5, 2019 at 9:31 am

    This is a citation from Rubinstein’s presidential address to the Econometric Society in Madrid in 2004 and published as a paper in Vol. 74, No. 4 (July, 2006), 865–883 under the title:
    DILEMMAS OF AN ECONOMIC THEORIST.

    Lars Syll has given a title: On the irrelevance of economics. Is this the main message of Rubinstein’s paper or a simple case of abuses in order to orient readers to abandon economics?

    Although I do not evaluate Rubinstein’s works highly, this is at least reflections that an economist made over his long carriers as theoretical economist. It deserves sincere examination as problems of all economists (including heterodox economists) who work in economic theories.

    Rubinstein raises four dilemmas that theoretical economists often face:
    (1) The dilemma of absurd conclusions
    (2) The dilemma of responding to evidence
    (3) The dilemma of modelless regularities
    (4) The dilemma of relevance

    All his reflections are based on his personal experiences and the examples there told may not be very interesting. In my impression, all examples (except The Jungle Model) are most discussed subjects which have in my opinion no substantial significance for economic life except for mainstream economists. The paper is, I may say, an example that a most talented people wastes his life in those insignificant academic problems if he tread an unfortunate path paved by mainstream economics. Even though, Rubinstein is a sincere economist who tried to find relevance of his study with the economic reality.

    One example is his Jungle Model, which was “the only paper I (Rubinstein) have ever been involved with that was motivated by real-life problems.” He constructed this model “as a rhetorical exercise designed to sow (more) doubts for economics students in their study of models of competitive markets.”

    I sometimes doubt whether heterodox economists reflect on what they are doing as economists as sincerely as Rubinstein did with his four dilemmas.

  3. Frank Salter
    September 5, 2019 at 11:03 am

    The problem with economic analysis is the creation of models and the erroneous belief that they can be “calibrated”. This is a category error. Science has avoided this by applying analysis from first principles which are simply axioms of empirical reality. Google indicates that there are more than 2.2 million academic papers which include the concept of first principles analysis. Why, with the real success of theoretical science, do economists fail to follow this example?

  4. September 5, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Good to see more and more nails in the coffin of Mainstream macroeconomics! It’s not going to roll over and play dead for a while yet. Ideas garnered over a lifetime will not easily change and evidence in support will be dismissed to maintain the illusion of relevance. But a paradigm shift is in motion today.

    • Yoshinori Shiozawa
      September 5, 2019 at 2:53 pm

      John, perhaps you rely too much on wishful thinking. Paradigm shift does not occur spontaneously. It is not a natural phenomenon. Have you ever imagined why Ptolemaic system continued more than one thousand years and how it came to be overturned?

      • Craig
        September 5, 2019 at 4:13 pm

        Yes that is what Kuhn observed. Yet when a paradigm shift does occur it is both personally spontaneous and (depending upon whether it directly effects virtually everyone in the present moment, i.e. a mega-paradigm shift) it is a rapid temporal universe change as well. The Copernican cosmological paradigm change was genuine, but the shift to agriculture, homesteading and urbanization from hunting and gathering was a mega-paradigm shift. Today a paradigm shift in economics, finance and money would fit this category and given the rapidity and ubiquitous nature of our technological advancement such a change would truly be earth shaking.

        Mega-paradigm shifts invalidate long held orthodoxies held by nearly everyone like “You must move about to survive” or “Increase in the quantity of money is the operant factor in inflation” or “The more savings the less money in general circulation”.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        September 5, 2019 at 11:38 pm

        Craig

        we must distinguish economy and economics, financial economy and economics of financial economy, and financialization or monetization of the economy and economics of those phenomena.

        Paradigm shift in economy and finance may proceed “spontaneously” by the technological and institutional change, but paradigm shift of economics does not occur without a group of economists who try to create a new economics. Lars Syll is busy criticizing mainstream economics but forgetting the re-building economics task. Do you want to face paradigm change without change of economics?

      • Craig
        September 6, 2019 at 5:30 am

        Yoshinori,

        Thanks for the reply

        “we must distinguish economy and economics, financial economy and economics of financial economy, and financialization or monetization of the economy and economics of those phenomena.”

        No, not in my opinion at all. That is an arbitrarily reductive attitude and leads no where but further theorizing about this or that datum. It IS a monetary economy Steve Keen has established that. All of the leading reform movements are about money, finance and its negative effects on the economy. Meanwhile the 5000 year old monetary paradigm of Debt Only goes on and on and on.

        We need an integrative perspective on the monetary effects of the present paradigm on the economy….not just another data point discussed….for the umpteenth time.

        All the leading reforms are doing their own thing. I’m in touch with several of the leaders of those reform movements and have communicated to them that they all align with the policies of the new paradigm. They’re just not seeing the new insight that a discount/rebate monetary policy at the point of retail sale resolves the two deepest problems of modern economics. I don’t know whether that is because their minds are blinded by orthodoxy, they’re just complacent or they’re just letting their self interests in their own movements prevent them from integrating with the larger paradigmatic movement. It’s probably all of those motives/afflictions/self interests.

        If anyone here can say that their ideas, theories, policies or whatever if implemented can immediately do more than double everyone’s potential purchasing power, double the potential business revenue for every enterprise and beneficially integrate price deflation into profit making economic systems….WITH A SINGLE POLICY, and with a couple of additional ones make every mega project necessary for ecological sanity and survival affordable and imminently doable…then I’ll get on their bandwagon. If not….for chrissake get on mine. The friggin’ end is near guys, ya know what I mean? Like a lotta, lotta dead people like yourselves and your families from probable resource wars and/or ecological disaster.

        Or we can regurgitate the things we’ve been regurgitating here for years. IT’S THE MONETARY PARADIGM GUYS. Prove me wrong with better and more beneficial policies. I’m ready to hear them.

      • Econoclast
        September 7, 2019 at 2:27 am

        I am reading an account of perhaps the biggest paradigm shift in human history. It seems to have boiled down to a combination of tolerance for child abuse, money/class, and cleverly deceptive marketing.

        The book is entitled “Christ’s Ventriloquist”.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        September 7, 2019 at 5:05 am

        What should not be forgotten is to achieve a paradigm shift in economics. Criticism alone does not lead to it. No complacency, please.

  5. Yoshinori Shiozawa
    September 6, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Craig reminds me the necessity to re-read Stanilav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972). According to the book, if I remind it correctly, social sciences develop by fierce fighting between revolutionary idealists and realistic conservatives who question the plausibility of idealists’ proposals. It is a shame that Andreski-type sense of balance has been lost for a long time.

    • Rob
      September 6, 2019 at 8:05 am

      Illiberal Reformers tells the story of the progressive scholars and activists who led the Progressive Era crusade to dismantle laissez-faire, remaking American economic life with a newly created instrument of reform, the administrative state. If many of their names are unfamiliar today, the progressives changed everything, permanently altering the course of America’s economy and its public life. (Leonard, Thomas C.. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (p. ix). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.)

      .
      A bit closer to home and shows how idealism doesn’t always play out the way the idealists planned. Not that idealism is not needed, mind you, just that it must be wedded to pragmatism too if it seeks to have long lasting impacts in the world.

      • Craig
        September 6, 2019 at 5:51 pm

        Rob, That’s precisely the point…REFORMS never last…but everything adapts to a genuinely new paradigm….not the other way around.

      • Rob
        September 6, 2019 at 10:03 pm

        I wish you well Craig. I will get to your book eventually, I promise.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 7, 2019 at 12:14 pm

        Rob, Leonard’s book is focused on economics, since his focus as an historian is economic history. Richard Hoftadter, an American historian’s focus is a bit broader, if only because history study is itself broader than economics. In his book, Progressive Historians, Hofstader writes,

        The Progressives opened up arguments in areas where there had been too much agreement and too much complacency. They took the writing of American history out of the hands of the Brahmins and the satisfied classes, where it had too exclusively rested, and made it responsive to the intellectual needs of new types of Americans who were beginning to constitute a productive, insurgent intelligentsia. They were in the vanguard of a new generation of Midwestern scholars who were deeply involved in the critical ferment that was felt at the beginning of the century, rebellious about the neglect of their own region, eager to make up for the past failure of historians to deal with the interests of the common man and with the historic merits of movements of reform. They attempted to find a usable past related to the broadest needs of a nation fully launched upon its own industrialization, and to make history an active instrument of self-recognition and self-improvement. Something important we do indeed owe them, and I hope it will not be smothered here in the folds of criticism.

        It’s my view that Hofstadter captures the essence of “The Progressive Movement” while Leonard does not. Unfortunately, the Progressives are ‘smothered’ in Leonard’s ahistorical criticisms. It appears to me Leonard’s intent is to erase the impacts of Progressive changes to America in an effort to return to America’s form before the Progressives appeared on the scene. This compels us, in my view to assess these impacts in total rather than piece by piece as Leonard does.

      • Rob
        September 7, 2019 at 1:37 pm

        I need to read it. God my reading list is long. Just got Fullbrook’s book here in Japan, reading Mirowski now.

      • Rob
        September 8, 2019 at 9:56 am

        Ken, looking at Hofstadter on Amazon. Prolific author. Latest looks interesting for sure. I suspected what you said about Leonard, but can draw the useful from his work. He does show that the progressives were themselves the victim of their own times, so-to-speak, in their elitist ideas at times. He also points out the religious roots of early American social science in the Social Gospel movement. He does a descent job of describing the process of professionalizing many of their movements in that they went to Europe to study and learn the latest science. That part aligns with Bernstein so he can’t be that bad of a scholar I think. I try to read multiple sources and compare them. Hofstadter must be next I guess ;-)

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 8, 2019 at 11:55 am

        Rob, Hofstadter was a prolific writer, but as many of his critics said, not an historian. He relied too much, for their taste on secondary sources and summaries. But it was not scholarly history writing that inspired Hofstadter, but rather by what I call social-historical critical story telling. And much of that was driven by embedded liberalism and his equally embedded opposition to protest and revolutions. In his book, “Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography,” (2006), David S. Brown, writes, “…after 1945 Hofstadter philosophically ‘broke’ with Charles A. Beard and moved to the right, becoming leader of the ‘consensus historians,’ a term that Hofstadter disapproved of, but it was widely applied to his apparent rejection of the Beardian idea that the fundamental conflict running throughout American history that pitted economic classes against each other was the sole basis for understanding history.” In a further move to the right, his friend David Herbert Donald, notes that Hofstadter, angered by the radical politics of the 1960s, and especially by the student occupation and temporary closure of Columbia University in 1968, began to criticize student activist methods. “As a liberal who criticized the liberal tradition from within, he was appalled by the growing radical, even revolutionary, sentiment that he sensed among his colleagues and his students. He could never share their simplistic, moralistic approach.” Howard Brick in ‘The End of Ideology Thesis.’ in The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (2013) says Hofstadter regarded them as “simple-minded, moralistic, ruthless, and destructive.” Less profoundly said, Hofstadter was a complex person, but a brilliant social critic. Despite strongly disagreeing with their political methods, he invited his radical students to discuss goals and strategies with him. He even employed one, Mike Wallace, to collaborate with him on American Violence: A Documentary History (1970); about the book, Hofstadter student Eric Foner said that it “utterly contradicted the consensus vision of a nation placidly evolving without serious disagreements.” Hofstadter died in 1970 at the age of 54. In 2008, conservative commentator George Will called Hofstadter “the iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension,” who “dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and psychological disorders—a ‘paranoid style’ of politics rooted in ‘status anxiety.’ etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by people irritated by the liberalism of condescension.” If you accept, that is if Will’s many styles of paranoia would even allow him to perceive Hofstadter and his work clearly.

    • Craig
      September 6, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      Ah yes, what we actually need is more dualistic three ways from the middle mental erudition….that makes a fine data point….and leads absolutely no where. NOT! Meanwhile ignore the mathematical, empirical temporal and paradigm changing effects of just one policy insight/breakthrough.

      The recognition of the policy power point of retail sale with a 50% discount/rebate monetary policy is the telescope and the discovery of agriculture of economics and finance. You just have to let it settle into your current paradigm conditioned mind long enough to compare the differences it will make to virtually everything in those bodies of knowledge.

      And despite the fact that the geo-political flames are leaping higher and the populace is getting more and more angry and impatient with the stresses the current monetary paradigm enforce upon them…..lets discuss other data points another hundred times.

      Focus on the pattern change and the pragmatic regulations and structural changes to keep it from being undone by the gamers…..and lets choose life, not death via a thousand excuses and distractions.

    • Rob
      September 10, 2019 at 7:36 am

      I am reading Stanilav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972) now. I seriously doubt your memory serves you well. First, it is dated for sure. Second, he is certainly not supporting the idea human beings are fitness climbing ticks or merely or even essentially at their core “if-then” calculating beings, bounded rationality or not. I believe you are reading your own flawed menery into his work and citing it as an appeal to authority (ironically something he is critical of right from the start).

      I’ll summarize his book on my blog. I note you have not provided a single citation. Patiently awaiting a citation or are you just all rhetoric?

      • Rob
        September 10, 2019 at 9:10 am

        The more I read the more I realize how all Yoshinori’s appeal to authority (Andreski’s book) is about is dating himself :-)

      • Rob
        September 10, 2019 at 9:36 am

        When, fraudulently basking in the glory of the exact sciences, the psychologists [, theoretical economists, etc.,] refuse to study anything but the most mechanical forms of behavior — often so mechanical that even have no chance to show their higher faculties — and then present their mostly trivial findings as the true picture of the human mind, they prompt people to regard themselves and others as automata, devoid of responsibility or worth, which can hardly remain without effect upon the tenor of social life. (Andreski 1972, 34)

        .
        I do believe Asad Zaman made this exact point in his recent post on game theory, which Yoshinori’s comment on that post shows he ignored (more likely never read as he only trolls RWER to hawk his new pet theory and blame Lars for destroying economics ;-)

      • Rob
        September 10, 2019 at 9:47 am

        When, fraudulently basking in the glory of the exact sciences, the psychologists [, theoretical economists, etc.,] refuse to study anything but the most mechanical forms of behavior — often so mechanical that even rats have no chance to show their higher faculties — and then present their mostly trivial findings as the true picture of the human mind, they prompt people to regard themselves and others as automata, devoid of responsibility or worth, which can hardly remain without effect upon the tenor of social life. (Andreski 1972, 34)

        .
        I do believe Asad Zaman made this exact point in his recent post on game theory, which Yoshinori’s comment on that post shows he ignored (more likely never read as he only trolls RWER to hawk his new pet theory and blame Lars for destroying economics ;-)

    • Rob
      September 12, 2019 at 2:05 am

      Craig reminds me the necessity to re-read Stanilav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972). Craig reminds me the necessity to re-read Stanilav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery (1972). According to the book, if I remind it correctly, social sciences develop by fierce fighting between revolutionary idealists and realistic conservatives who question the plausibility of idealists’ proposals. It is a shame that Andreski-type sense of balance has been lost for a long time. book, if I remind it correctly, social sciences develop by fierce fighting between revolutionary idealists and realistic conservatives who question the plausibility of idealists’ proposals. It is a shame that Andreski-type sense of balance has been lost for a long time. ~ Yoshinori’s Flawed Memory of Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery

      .
      Just finished reading Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery in its entirety. Nowhere in Andreski’s book is there anything remotely even approximating Yodhinori’s claim. On the terms “conservative” and “idealist” Yodhinori’s assertion is pure fiction entirely the product of his own imagination. Ironically, and apropos I think, Andreski’s book repeatedly casticates the kind of ahistorical anchronistic scientism Yodhinori intellectually parrots on this forum.
      .
      In a forthcoming review of his book I will use Andreski’s book (why not, since Yoshinori’s own erroneous appeal to authority used it) to make some timely points.

  6. Ken Zimmerman
    September 6, 2019 at 11:43 am

    The economics profession took a beating after nearly all its practitioners failed to predict the 2008 global financial crisis and it has been struggling to recover ever since. After that crisis, economists also did not predict, nor could they provide policy guidance for the slowing of economic growth and the vast expansion of economic inequality. Economists seemed confused by most financial and economic events after the 2008 crisis. They had no explanations and no guidance, or at least, refused to offer any.

    As with Queen Elizabeth II, who famously asked in November 2008 why nobody had seen the crisis coming, many ordinary citizens have grown ever more skeptical of economists’ ability to explain, predict, or speak clearly about economic developments, let alone offer sound guidance to policymakers. Some surveys rank economists among the least-trusted professionals (after politicians, of course, whose trust economists have also lost).

    The profession’s deteriorating reputation is largely the result of economists’ over reliance on their own self-imposed orthodoxies. Economists need to focus more on interdisciplinary work, with social scientists and behavioral scientists, and particularly with historians and anthropologists. Economists also need to deemphasize advanced math and purely mathematical answers for economic questions. Economics is not a “stand-alone” discipline. It must form working relationships with the other disciplines that can and will help to answer economic questions and solve economic problems. Big problems face the world. Economists must learn to work as part of the team to address these problems. But on none of these problems will economists have the final word, nor should they. Economists, particularly American economists have a long history of mumbling economic directives, with the order they be followed without question. This simply will not work any longer, if it ever did. If they don’t want their discipline assigned to history’s dustbin, where it’s headed currently, economists must become willing and effective team members for the project of making the world economically secure, and politically equal and democratic. If they continue to help impoverish 90% of the world’s population for the purpose of enriching the 10% and protecting their political hegemony, then irrelevance is the least punishment they can or should expect. But economists have not taken such warnings seriously. Despite the concerns of others, economists continue to see no recession in the near term. Unabated growth is the prediction of most economists. Economists refuse to even consider that the US Fed, IMF, and world bank have and can in the future screw up the world’s economy. And what’s to be done about the Sino-American trade conflict, and its associated political controversies? So far, most economists have trotted out the conventional argument that tariffs (real or threatened) are always bad for everyone. In doing so, they have ignored work from their own profession showing how the promised benefits of trade, while substantial, can be undermined by market and institutional imperfections. Those who want to make a productive contribution to the debate should take a more nuanced approach, applying tools and knowledge from sociology, psychology, history, etc. to distinguish economists’ theories of trade from actual trading. No such conversation has occurred nor is it likely to occur.

    • Robert Locke
      September 7, 2019 at 10:07 am

      In the early 1970s I had occasion to speak with one of my colleagues, head of sociology at Fordham University, who had been asked to Review what contemporaries had said in their reviews of Hume’s Critic of Pure Reason published long before. One might have expected fulsome praise in their reviews of the great man’s work; au contraire, the reviews were highly critical — the point being that academics rarely praise each other, even when they should. The sociologist, who had just returned from Cambridge University where he had worked with a team of specialists from different disciplines, told me that it had been an exhilarating experience working with a mixed team on a specific issue. He never learned more in his life. Economists pay attention.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 7, 2019 at 12:21 pm

        Robert, I’ve worked on interdisciplinary teams for all of my career. Outside of academia, this is the norm, not the exception. It’s impossible to deal with actual problems using just a single point of view.

      • Craig
        September 7, 2019 at 8:41 pm

        That is correct. What we require is the quintessential integrative process and perspective AKA Wisdom which in fact integrates both thinking/abstraction and looking/direct observation, the latter of which is sorely missing as we all agree in economics.

  7. Rob
    September 6, 2019 at 10:51 pm

    Great comment Ken. There are a few economists I have read who are doing some of what you speak of above. One I find good is David Weil’s Fissured Workplace. He is actually documenting and working for change in the fissured workplace and advocating for changes in law that protect part-time, contingent, temp workers (i.e., like providing benefits).

    • Ken Zimmerman
      September 7, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      Rob, doing what Weil suggests will be difficult in today’s settings. Changes will require alterations in almost every aspect of American life. That’s the extent to which neoliberalism (sociopathy) has penetrated American society.

      • Rob
        September 7, 2019 at 12:45 pm

        No one said it will be easy. It never is.

  8. George M. Kallas
    September 7, 2019 at 1:32 am

    https://rwer.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/on-the-irrelevance-of-economics/#comments

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I came to so-called ‘the economics’ via a long intellectual journey of confusion, disgust, and basically asking myself, ‘What fuck is this all about?”

    I started studying physical sciences, engineering, philosophy of sciences, then comparative languages and wound up teaching so-called ‘political’ ‘science.’

    I taught myself ‘economics’ and discovered much to my amazement, ‘neo-classical’ economics was basically an ideological scam without foundations in reality. And quite frankly, insane to keep ‘teaching it’ during these times of global crises.

    Furthermore what I discovered was simple–

    What passes for ‘social’ ‘sciences’ has more to do with arguing for ideological positions that get one tenure not ‘truth-seeking’… it’s an ideological argument misusing and abusing mathematics in order to ‘prove-a-point’ that has no bearing on helping policymaking solve these current crises, more ‘intellectual masturbation’ or more like Nero’s fiddling as our habitat burns…. (See Morris Kline on the uncertainties of mathematics)

    ‘Social’ ‘Sciences’ of all types is in massive 21st century crises along with the 3 Existential Crises facing humanity:

    Ecocide
    Massive global wealth inequalities
    Nuclear and conventional conflict proliferation

    Conventional teaching of Politics and Economics are not fit for the 21st century crises.

    In my view, like ‘climate deniers,’ this is bordering on intellectual criminal negligence.

    Given this state of affairs, the false historical split between ‘POLITICS’ from ‘ECONOMICS’ and the commission of omission of HISTORY from these two conceptions of social POWER is reinforcing these crises causing more confusion than clarity of thought. This is bad news.

    I teach POLITICS AS POWER + ECONOMICS AS POWER, they are mutually inclusive and coherent and my students seem to agree, common sense and common sense of ethics and morality for human survival on a very lonely planet and what to do about it and how we approach POLITICS AS POWER + ECONOMICS AS POWER means throwing away the conventional textbooks and opening critical thinking long left dormant.

    This means revolutions in thought and action…what the future hold remains in doubt…

  9. EDWARD K ROSS
    September 8, 2019 at 1:35 am

    In reply to Lars Syll and those who have contributed to the conversation and in particular Ken Zimmerman September 6@11;45 am

    “The economic profession took a beating after nearly all its practitioners failed to predict the 2008 global financial crisis.”

    To me this observation highlights firstly the irrelevance of main stream economics, while it also emphasizes the importance of history to remind us of how we arrived at the present. Secondly it stresses the importance of genuine empirical evidence, instead of hypothetical false assumptions.

    I am now 83 years old and throughout my life I had many conversations with many non academic people who had lived through the 1930’s great depression. Here the point is that in spite of their lack of education, they were able observe the growing emergence of the same conditions that caused the great depression. While most of them did not appear much about KEYNES they were that his policies played a large part in lifting the world out of the great depression. This is described in the following;

    “He believed the evidence showed that free trade , the international mobility of capitalism and foreign ownership of national assets were more likely to great war than peace” (Keynes1933)Ted Wheelwright cited in the Complicity of Think-Tanks edited by Stuart Rees and Gordon Rodley ”

    The fact that those who had experienced the great depression could see that the their was a very real possibility that there was a very real possibility of a repeat of the great depression and mainstream economists were oblivious of the possibility, indicates to me firstly that much of the placed theory before history and genuine empirical evidence of events in the real world. Or in other words as C.T.Kurien makes the distinction in Wealth and Ill fare ‘between’
    Logic centred and Life centred.

    FROM THIS BACKGROUND I THINK THE FIRST STEP to reform economics is to listen to the concerns of the public and involve them in the conversations before indulging in what generally amounts to idle self important irrelevant idle chatter. Somehow if I may be so bold , I think Bernard Gurrien and those who supported the French Students request for a pluralistic economic education would support my ideas tED

    • Ken Zimmerman
      September 8, 2019 at 10:07 am

      Edward, the failure of economics’ practitioners to predict the 2008 financial crisis shows the inadequacy of mainstream economics. But the same can be said of much of physical science. Astronomers and physicists can’t predict asteroid strikes on earth. And no epidemiologist can predict the course of a disease. More important, in my view is that economists could not or would not provide any recommendations to deal with the crisis. And they seemed confused by the crisis events. Mainstream economics may be irrelevant, but first it seems a failed research effort, confused by what is supposedly its areas of study.

      Did you ever wonder why “free trade, the international mobility of capitalism, and foreign ownership of national assets” are so popular today, and in other historical periods? They’re popular because they’re culturally approved. They have the context of approval around them. Each instance has a long history of development, which we can’t go into here. But using such phrases in most western countries today without reflection or fear of contradiction is often called “cultural blindness,” or in older anthropology, “ethnocentrism.” Right now, we need many rebels in economics who refuse to use these phrases in this way. From whence do we draw these rebels?

      I agree that economics is probably the most afflicted of the social sciences with what Stanislav Andreskie calls in his book, ‘Social Sciences as Sorcery’ “pretentious and nebulous verbosity, interminable repetition of platitudes and disguised propaganda are the order of the day, while at least 95 per cent of research is indeed re-search for things that have been found long ago and many times since.” All social scientists are, in my view enamored of the physical sciences, hoping to replicate them in their areas. This is, of course impossible. A large part of how each science develops in based on the areas it researches. The physical and social sciences are different in form and methods for many reasons, but this one above all.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        September 8, 2019 at 3:47 pm

        Ken, maybe you are missing the most important message of Andreski. We should talk about how we can make social science progress. They proceed by proposing a theory that can outdo the old theory.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 9, 2019 at 1:32 am

        Yoshinori, Andreski’s intent is as he put it to make the case that “much of what passes as
        scientific study of human behaviour boils down to an equivalent of sorcery.” Scientists often cover this over with verbose language and methodical devices that reveal nothing new but protect the ‘back-sides’ of scientists. You disagree?

      • Rob
        September 9, 2019 at 4:18 am

        [I]f I remind it correctly, social sciences develop by fierce fighting between revolutionary idealists and realistic conservatives who question the plausibility of idealists’ proposals. ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa, RWER, 9/6/2019
        .
        Ken, maybe you are missing the most important message of Andreski. We should talk about how we can make social science progress. They proceed by proposing a theory that can outdo the old theory. ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa, RWER, 9/8/2019

        .
        Maybe you don’t “[remember] it correctly” and distort and misunderstand Andreski for all we know Shiozawa. For after all, you have distorted history repeatedly on this forum and once in the WEA Conference for rhetorical purposes. You have tried to hawk your anachronistic “internalist-externalist” rhetoric repeatedly on RWER and WEA Conference as wel. Robert Delorme’s response succinct and to the point:
        .

        It is interesting to learn that, as an economist and social scientist, I must be in a “pre-Copernican” stage. Although what this means is not totally clear to me, I take it as revealing that our presuppositions about scientific practice differ. You claim to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating the subject I address, and that this way is the methods and tools of natural science. I claim to have devised a way which works, without knowing if it is the most appropriate, a thing whose decidability would seem to be quite problematic. And the way I have devised meets the conditions of a reflective epistemology of scientific practice, in natural science as well as in social science.

        Your presupposition is that the application of the methods of natural science is the yardstick for social science. This is scientism.
        — Robert Delorme, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 12/1/2017, italics added.

        .

        In the last quarter of the twentieth century discussions of the interplay of science and society have outgrown the crude dictums of historical materialism, as well as transcending the incoherent dichotomy of internalist and externalist intellectual histories. To cite just a sampling, the writings on the history of science of Brush (1978), Barnes and Shapin (1979), Mackenzie (1981), Freudenthal (1986), Elster (1975), Breger (1982) Sohn-Rethel (1978), Latour (1987), Pickering (1984), Collins (1985), Markus (1987), Forman (1971), and Porter (1981a, 1985, 1986) are evidence of a great flowering of efforts all concerned with a reconsideration of the interplay of science and social forces. [We can add Hook (2002) to this long list.]

        .

        In her call for economists to pay attention to the metaphors and narrative structures that comprise economic argument not less than they do the intellectual output of the humanities, McCloskey (1998A, 1990, and 1994) has clearly identified and criticized the tendency in modernist economics to fetishize so-called scientific ways of constructing discourse. Her criticism focuses primarily on the related points that scientific, in any field, and without question in economics, relies on standard recognizable literary and discursive forms of persuasion and that the preference for what passes for science should not be grounded in the presumption that economists do something called theory that somehow is not a function of the forms of rhetoric and literary construction. (Ruccio et. a. 2003, 253-254)

        .
        You repeatedly intellectually parrot an outgrown the crude whiggish history qua Scientism. So, since Ken actually seems to have gone back and read Andreski (refreshing his memory) and you simply make dogmatic assertions with no citations, perhaps you should go back and reread Andreski, refresh your own memory, and support your baseless claims with source material if you think his writings support your interpretations? Or are you one of those content with simply parroting “pretentious and nebulous verbosity, interminable repetition of platitudes and disguised propaganda”?

      • Rob
        September 9, 2019 at 4:43 am

        Citation missed …
        .

        In the last quarter of the twentieth century discussions of the interplay of science and society have outgrown the crude dictums of historical materialism, …
        — Philip Mirowski (1989, 106-107) More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature’s Economics

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 9, 2019 at 7:42 am

        Excellent comment, Rob. As you note, science studies has moved monumentally from when I first encountered it in 1979. The really best part of those changes is that’s they’ve forced scientists, but more importantly laypersons to reconsider what science is and what it can and cannot do. Andreski captures well the older views of science. Objective, able to uncover truth, unquestionable, and the way scientists used threats, over the top language, and just plain bravado to shut down critics who rightly pointed out that none of these is possible for humans so how can they be possible for a the human creation science.

      • Rob
        September 9, 2019 at 12:13 pm

        That’s why I love the history of science. It exposes the fallacies of scientism and makes one a better scientist, philosopher, theorist, whatever. Only those blinded by dogmatism and ideology denigrate the history of science or philosophy. That doesn’t mean all history of sciene and all philosophy is great; far from it. But it does indicate in my view a certain dogmatism that fails to think with the degree of nuance that the love of truth and it pursuit requires; and one must be willing to follow it wherever it will lead.
        .

        Ken, you are misguided by the title of the book. Andreski has stated much more important things. ~ Shiozawa’s ex cathedera BS
        .
        There are four chief obstacles to grasping truth, which hinder every man, however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to knowledge; namely, submission to faulty and unworthy authority, influence of custom, popular prejudice, and concealment of our own ignornance accompanied by an ostentatious display of our knowledge.
        — Roger Bacon cited in Stanislav Andreski, Front Material, Social Sciences as Sorcery

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 9, 2019 at 1:09 pm

        Rob, the dogmatism and ideological origins of this view of science seems to affirm my point. Humans are never without bias (so long as their alive), have no way of figuring out what truth with the big “T” is much less how or where to find it, and nothing humans do, say, or think is ever beyond questioning. This seems to fit Andreski’s reference to sorcery in science. Assuming science can achieve these things is simply a belief in the supernatural.

      • Rob
        September 10, 2019 at 3:03 am

        Totally agree Ken. That is the key, knowing that truth is not absolute or as you put it we “have no way of figuring out what truth with the big ‘T’ is much less how to find it.” It is kind of a never ending dialectic of moving from one relative truth to another.
        .
        If we realize the incompleteness of our knowledge, even scientific knowledge, we would be more humble, more willing to point out the limits of our theories and less likely to make ex cathedra pronouncements New Central Dogmas.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        September 9, 2019 at 4:44 am

        Ken, you are misguided by the title of the book. Andreski has stated much more important things.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 9, 2019 at 7:30 am

        Yoshinori, I believe I cited Andreski’s intent in the book as I see it. I haven’t read his book in a couple of years, but I did review it again before commenting. If you believe another passage from the book better captures Andreski’s intent, please cite it.

    • Yoshinori Shiozawa
      September 8, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      Three cheers to Edward. A bold but humble opinion. I love it.

  10. Gerald Holtham
    September 9, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Scientists who made breakthroughs and advances in science were very seldom concerned with issues of methodology or the philosophy of science. They took to such matters, if at all, only in their retirement from scientific enquiry. The breakthroughs were the result of considering a particular problem and using any systematic method that came to hand to tackle it. If the method proved fertile, the problem came closer to being solved than previously and other scientists used the method in other applications or tried to build on the result, hence a new paradigm. Mr Shiozawa is trying to solve practical issues in economics not intellectualising fruitlessly about methodology. That is why, though he may fail, his efforts are more likely to be fruitful than those of people who get lost in introspection about method.

    • Yoshinori Shiozawa
      September 10, 2019 at 2:54 am

      Very important point! I totally agree with Gerald Holtham. I must also thank Gerald for grasping the problem exactly. What matters is not to crush down economics, but rebuild it.

      The problem of economics we face at at present is that the required paradigm change is extremely great. Substitution of an axiom (or fundamental premise) by another does not bring the necessary breakthrough. A deep change of vision that replaces if not all but many premises is required. Consequently, attacking each of premises is not useful at all. We should talk about the strategy to achieve a revolution. (Of course, not a political revolution, but a revolution of the framework by which we understand the economy.)

    • Rob
      September 10, 2019 at 3:40 am

      Mr Shiozawa is trying to solve practical issues in economics not intellectualising fruitlessly about methodology. ~ Gerald Holtham
      .
      I always love that kind of argument. The contrary of a thing isn’t the contrary; oh, dear me, no! It’s the thing itself, but as it truly is. Ask any die-hard what conservatism is; he’ll tell you that it’s true socialism. And the brewers’ trade papers: they’re full of articles about the beauty of true temperance. Ordinary temperance is just gross refusal to drink; but true temperance, true temperance is something much more refined. True temperance is a bottle of claret with each meal and three double whiskies after dinner.
      .
      Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza (London: Chatto and Windus, 1936) pp. 122–23.

      .
      I must ask what ever do you mean by “practical issues”? Shiozawa is not about solving “practical issues” at all. He is all about what is termed literature only economics or Literature-Only Discourse and the Pretense of Scientific Merit. This distinction (which Gerald Hotham confuses and conflates) is revealed in the WEA Conference in which economists were really trying to address real-world practical issues (e.g., )
      .

      It is interesting to learn that, as an economist and social scientist, I must be in a “pre-Copernican” stage. Although what this means is not totally clear to me, I take it as revealing that our presuppositions about scientific practice differ. You claim to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating the subject I address, and that this way is the methods and tools of natural science. I claim to have devised a way which works, without knowing if it is the most appropriate, a thing whose decidability would seem to be quite problematic. And the way I have devised meets the conditions of a reflective epistemology of scientific practice, in natural science as well as in social science.
      .
      Your presupposition is that the application of the methods of natural science is the yardstick for social science. This is scientism.
      — Robert Delorme, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 12/1/2017, italics added.

    • Rob
      September 10, 2019 at 4:03 am

      Here is an example of real economics trying to solve real-world practical problems: Pitchfork Economics podcast.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      September 10, 2019 at 4:05 am

      Gerald, it’s a bit more complicated how science work is performed, but you’re on the right track. A lot of scientific work is tacit. Most scientists put it away, forget they did it once the conclusions of their work are accepted by the scientific community as facts. The percentage of tacit work varies from project to project, but in most instances of which I’m aware personally it’s not less than 25%. That’s one of the focuses of the new social studies of science. And reflexively examining tacit work and assumptions in scientific work is now part of the training of scientists. Also, scientists are de-emphasizing objectivity and instead focusing on multiple methods research as a way to triangulate on conclusions. Science is changing, as it always has.

      • Rob
        September 10, 2019 at 4:20 am

        Long live Chamberlin’s Multiple Working Hypotheses!
        .

        Chamberlin’s most enduring single publication was probably his Science article, “The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses,” published in 1890, reprinted in many journals, and available as late as 1977 from the American Association for the Advancement of Science as a reprint. This article is a strong attack on the tyranny of dominant hypotheses. As his initial summary says, “With this method the dangers of parental affection for a favorite theory can be circumvented.” Even today, one finishes reading this article with a determination to rethink one’s own research to see what damage theory-induced bias has inflicted. Not better statement of the matter can be found than this passage from the second section of his article:
        .
        The moment one has offered an original explanation for a phenomenon which seems satisfactory, that moment affection for his intellectual child springs into existence; and as the explanation grows into a definite theory, his parental affections cluster about his intellectual offspring, and it grows more and more dear to him, so that, while he holds it seemingly tentative, it is still lovingly tentative, and not impartially tentative. So soon as this parental affection take possession of the mind, there is a rapid passage to the adoption of the theory …. Instinctively there is a special searching-out of phenomena that support it, for the mind is led by its desires. [Thomas C. Chamberlin, “The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses,” Science, 1890, 15:92-96.] (Newman, Robert P. American Intransigence: The Rejection of Continental Drift in the Great Debates of the 1920s. Earth Sciences History. 1995; 14(1):62-83.)
        .
        Theoretical Pluralism: The Ideal of Multiple Working Hypotheses
        .
        In calling Chamberlin’s glacial theory a “working hypothesis,” Willis was referring to Chamberlin’s own philosophical program–the most famous American articulation of an antiauthoritarian logic of discovery—the method of multiple working hypotheses. This method, as first advanced by G. K. Gilbert but named and widely promoted from the turn of the century onward by T. C. Chamberlin, consisted of the attempt to weigh observational facts in light of competing explanatory options. The method was an explicit prescription: the geologist going out into the field was to approach the problem of discovery not through the lens of an established theoretical viewpoint but through a prism of conceptual receptivity that refracted multiple explanatory options. The appropriate stance was not one of testing one hypothesis but of weighing various hypotheses. (Oreskes 1999, 136-137)
        .
        Chamberlin likened the scientist’s struggle for impartiality to the parental striving to divide love fairly among offspring: the goal of the method was to find a way to evaluate competing hypotheses on equal terms:
        .
        In developing the multiple hypotheses, the effort is to bring up into view every rational explanation of the phenomenon in hand and to develop every tenable hypothesis relative to its nature, cause, or origin, and to give to all of these as impartially as possible a working form and a due place in the investigation. The investigator thus becomes the parent of a family of hypotheses; and by his parental relations to all is morally forbidden to fasten his affection unduly upon any one.
        .
        A good scientist was like a good parent: fair and equitable. For the parent, fairness was a goal unto itself; for the scientist, it was the means to the end of intellectual receptivity. Of course, scientists do feel protective toward their own favored hypotheses—just as parents feel protective toward their offspring—but this impulse is diminished when the scientific “children” are raised by the whole village. Most important, one is freed to entertain the possibility that both sides in a debate may be partly right. Chamberlin elaborated:
        .
        Where some of the hypotheses have been already proposed and used, while others are the investigator’s own creation, a natural difficulty arises, but the right use of the method requires the impartial adoption of all alike into the working family. The investigator thus at the outset puts himself in cordial sympathy and in parental relationship (of adoption, if not of authorship) with every hypothesis that is at all applicable to the case under investigation. Having thus neutralized so far as may be the partialities of his emotional nature, he proceeds with a certain natural and enforced erectness of mental attitude to the inquiry, knowing well that some of his intellectual children (by birth or adoption) must needs perish before maturity, but yet with the hope that several of them may survive the ordeal of crucial research, since it often proves in the end that several agencies were conjoined in the production of the phenomena. Honors must often be divided among hypotheses. (Oreskes, Naomi. The Rejection of Continental Drift: Theory and Method in American Earth Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1999; p. 136.)
        Notes:

      • Ken Zimmerman
        September 10, 2019 at 11:40 am

        Rob, all correct about Chamberlin and the multiple hypotheses approach. As I pointed out in an earlier post, this method marks a division within the sciences. Few physicists, chemists, or mathematicians would accept this approach. But it is widely accepted and used by biologists, geologists, and other “life” scientists. It marks a clear disagreement among scientists about what science is and how it is supposed to work. A disagreement that’s been in place for over 200 years. I explain it this way. Physicists and the like prefer “clean” science with clear objectives and methods. Biologists, geologists, etc. (the sciences of the hazy processes of life and the planet) see (have always seen) that science can never be clear and its methods unquestioned. Physicists, for example, despite their claims have difficulty dealing with complexity. Planetary and life scientists do not. Notice how there are no scientific conferences in which the two sides interact. They don’t play well together.

    • Rob
      September 10, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Shiozawa is trying to solve practical issues in economics not intellectualising fruitlessly about methodology. ~ Gerald Holtham
      .
      You are attacking concrete social problems. I am rather a general theorist. ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa declaring he is not trying to solve practical problems but theorizing about new methodology, i.e., evolutionary economics!
      .
      I must also thank Gerald for grasping the problem exactly. What matters is not to crush down economics, but rebuild it. What matters is not to crush down economics, but rebuild it. ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa projecting his own fear (see below)
      .
      What is at the stake is the whole structure of a discipline. Can you imagine such a thing in geology or geophysics? It is something similar to replacing modern physics by another. Probably you cannot understand the real issue of economics.
      — Yoshinori Shiozawa, 2/5/2018, Personal Communication

      .
      Gerald hasn’t grasped the real problem; he is simply confused about what Shiozawa is doing. Shiozawa admits himself he is not “attacking concrete social problems,” but rather he is a literature-only ivory tower “general theorist.” He complains incessantly on RWER how Lars is destroying young minds and turning them off from economics, and as one can see in his personal communication, he views it as an existential threat to his own being. In reality Shiozawa is engaging in a form of Freudian projection projecting onto Lars his deepest fear that if it is true that economics is not as science in his narrow view of scientism then he has effectively wasted his life’s effort, a point made by Andreski ironically enough, as to why such pseudo-scientists engage in such bravado and sophistry.

  11. Craig
    September 10, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    The paradigm of Science ONLY as the sole means of inquiry is part and parcel of the impasse we face. What, am I knocking science? Not at all, but the scientific mindset is reductionistic when what is required is the integrative/philosophical/wisdom mindset, that is, the more inclusive integrative mindset which is what good science always is, and has ALWAYS been the mindset that has led to scientific breakthroughs….that enable and enlighten new paradigms. Think a new thought, a paradigmatic thought that is a SINGLE concept that describes, embodies and creates an entirely new PLURALISM-PATTERN. In other words a paradigm is the quintessential integrative phenomenon….BOTH MENTALLY AND TEMPORALLY.

  12. Gerald Holtham
    September 12, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    All right, “practical problem” was overstating it. Mr Shiozawa is not an applied economist; he is attempting to theorise. Nonetheless he is addressing a specific question not asking how questions in general should be addressed. Macroeconomics has gone nowhere or even backwards in the last three of four decades because people set off in search of “microfoundations” by which they meant a way to derive, or at least understand, macroeconomic behaviour from the micreconomic theory of choice. The hope was they would understand why the economy behaved as it did and not base forecasts on extrapolation of past regularities or base conditional forecasts on “ad hoc” models. They went about it in a crazy way. The basic question is why are economies generally fairly stable even though, as a first approximation, no-one knows anything. In particular individuals do not know what other individuals are up to.. The new classical theorists tackled this by assuming there were only one or two “representative agents” in the economy and they knew everything. As an approach that was mad and I have no idea why it caught on – well I have but that’s another story.

    Mr Shiozawa is asking the question whether there is a more plausible generalization about individual behaviour and interaction that would generate the kind of regularities we observe at the macro level. Evidently macro phenomena are emergent, the product of the interaction of large numbers of people. They can never be inferred from the characteristics of an individual. His may be a wild goose chase but it isn’t an unworthy question. Of course no theory of society is truly general in space or time and its links to a particular historical experience and set of institutions must be borne in mind. He will only ever come up with a model, not a general theory but that could still be useful.

    Newton invented calcuus because he needed to solve a specific question he had set himself. Even advances in mathematics, the most abstract of disciplines are generally driven by trying to answer a question arising from consideration of the real world. Research cannot be paralysed by methodological scepticism. That was my only point.

  13. Gerald Holtham
    September 12, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    By the way, for all the limitations of Keynes’ theory, note that it was essential in preventing the great recession of 2008 turning into a 1930s style slump. In a crude way, Keynes’ insights were true and valuable. They were over-interpreted and over-used in the post World War II era but in certain situations they become germane and valuable. Economic understanding has advanced since 1930. The question of why does the economy in certain situations behave in the way it does is important. Can we relate Keynesian features in macroeconomic behaviour to more fundamental causes? If we can we will get a better understanding of when Keynesian policy prescriptions are appropriate and when not. Mr Shiozawa’s work is abstract but if it illuminates these questions it will be valuable. But this is nothing like physics. There are no “laws” in economics. Knowledge gained is partial and even more provisional than it is in physical sciences. We know that. You haven’t discovered anything in new when you keep reminding us – though no doubt it is good for our soul.

    • Craig
      September 12, 2019 at 10:57 pm

      Keynesianism was a good reform. Reforms always get gamed and reversed because they are piecemeal. Keynesianism was aligned with grace as in abundance, but misaligned in that it was indirect to business only from a non-monetary sovereign state instead of directly to the individual and reciprocally back to enterprise from a monetary sovereign state. It also existed wholly within the current paradigm of Debt Only as the sole form and vehicle for the distribution of credit/money.

      Everything adapts to a new paradigm, not the other way around, as in reforms.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.