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More than economists

from Lars Syll

Veblen, Keynes, and Hirschman were more than economists because they practiced their economics from a standpoint outside the profession, using it to criticize not only the assumption of rational self-interest, but also the consequences of economists’ indifference to “preferences.” Veblen’s standpoint was explicitly religious; he was still of a believing generation. Keynes, too, was an ethicist. G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica remained what he called his “religion under the surface.” Hirschman wanted a “moral social science” that would be continually sensitive to the ethical content of its analysis …

Prof. Lord Robert Skidelsky (C. 1953-58), OB of the Month, July 2012 - Old  Brightonians - The Alumni of Brighton CollegeThese three economists’ frequently mocking style was their way of establishing their distance from their profession. Their irony was not ornamental but actually shaped the substance of their arguments. This style limited their impact on economics, but made them highly influential outside it, because critics of economics sensed something transgressive about them.

Systematic thinkers close a subject, leaving their followers with “normal” science to fill up the learned journals. Fertile ones open up their disciplines to critical scrutiny, for which they rarely get credit.

Robert Skidelsky

  1. November 22, 2021 at 1:22 am

    AS an undergraduate (now almost 60 years ago) I bought Hirschman’s THE STRATEGY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT which I read without really appreciating how “unusual” it was …Later, EXIT VOICE AND LOYALTY was incredibly impressive and provocative — I highly recommend the latter to anyone who hasn’t read it …. It is still VERY VALUABLE today whereas I think the world is WAY PAST the earlier book which was written in a. context where national economic policies were possible — as they really no longer are …

  2. Gerald Holtham
    November 26, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    Thought-provoking. David Hume, who comes in for some stick on this blog for some reason, was the great ironist of philosophy. He too poked gentle but deadly fun at the metaphysicians or theologians who constructed elaborate structures on the most tenuous empirical base.
    In economics some of the most subversive thinkers like Herb Simon and Hyman Minsky were generally polite. Much good it did them.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    December 3, 2021 at 8:08 am

    Opening up disciplines to critical scrutiny can be beneficial. But even more beneficial is opening for viewing and description the actual ways of life people construct and upon which communities are based.

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