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My philosophy of economics

from Lars Syll

A critique yours truly sometimes encounters is that as long as I cannot come up with some own alternative to the failing mainstream theory, I shouldn’t expect people to pay attention.

This is however to misunderstand the role of philosophy and methodology of economics!

As John Locke wrote in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

19557-004-21162361The Commonwealth of Learning is not at this time without Master-Builders, whose mighty Designs, in advancing the Sciences, will leave lasting Monuments to the Admiration of Posterity; But every one must not hope to be a Boyle, or a Sydenham; and in an Age that produces such Masters, as the Great-Huygenius, and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some other of that Strain; ’tis Ambition enough to be employed as an Under-Labourer in clearing Ground a little, and removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way to Knowledge.

That’s what philosophy and methodology can contribute to economics — clear obstacles to science.

respectEvery now and then yours truly also gets some upset comments from people wondering why I’m not always ‘respectful’ of people like Eugene Fama, Robert Lucas, Greg Mankiw, and others of the same ilk.

But sometimes it might actually, from a Lockean perspective, be quite appropriate to be disrespectful.

New Classical and ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics is rubbish that ‘lies in the way to Knowledge.’

And when New Classical and ‘New Keynesian’economists resurrect fallacious ideas and theories that were proven wrong already in the 1930s, then I think a less respectful and more colourful language is called for.

  1. yoshinorishiozawa
    January 5, 2023 at 11:35 pm

    I hope you yourself do not set the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge. To call New Classical and ‘New Keynesian’ macroeconomics rubbish is OK, but I feel you sometimes set the rubbish in front of heterodox economics.

    Mainstream economics will go into the cul-de-sac by itself. The question is how to create a new economics that will replace mainstream economics. Philosophers of science are not neutral to the progress of a science. They are either progressive or retrogressive.

  2. metaecongary
    January 6, 2023 at 4:32 am

    Less respectful and colorful language has become essential, in that mainstream economics is now an ideology, and, ideologies only get changed by same. The not colorful and respected language coming out of data, empirical science, rigorous testing of null hypotheses that all support rejecting the mainstream economic ideology, well, personal experience of speaking said language for 4-decades (in developing dual interest theory) is that the mainstream will never change with respectful and empirical (not colorful but factual & ethical) language. There: Empirical evidence to support your contention. A MetaEcon (Metaconomics framed) talking here, coming from one who has tried without success to nudge the economic conversation onto a foundation of facts (scientific-method sourced) & ethics (that which the other can go along with), both lacking in mainstream economics which is both unscientific (ignoring data and evidence that threatens the ideology of self-interest) & unethical (opposed to ethical reflection on all fronts).

  3. yoshinorishiozawa
    January 7, 2023 at 8:47 am

    Readers of this discussion page would like to read this paper:

    The main contention that Missos claims, i.e., that neoclassical ideology stems from mathematical analysis, must be true. But what Missos completely missed to see is that deep and often unconventional mathematical analysis is necessary in order to construct a heterodox economics that can rebut and replace mainstream economics. The same point can be placed to Lars Syll’s various observations.

    • yoshinorishiozawa
      January 8, 2023 at 4:02 am

      I have forgotten to give the name of author and the title of the paper:

      Missos V. (2020) Mathematical Analysis as a Source of Mainstream Economic Ideology, Economic Thought 9(1), 72-95.

      You can freely download the PDF.

  4. January 7, 2023 at 7:07 pm

    Wish I could read all these 17th/18th century philosophers enough to do justice to them: they all write so well! But I couldn’t get through much of their enormous output in a lifetime, so, sadly, have to make do with these snippets. :/

    • Ikonoclast
      January 12, 2023 at 3:27 am

      There’s an old-ish tome you may be able to get from a “classics” bookshop. “The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill” edited by Edwin A. Burtt, The Modern Library, Random House, 1939.

      Important selections from Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, John Gay, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

      • January 13, 2023 at 12:13 am

        Thanks Ikonoclast: I did get a series of short volumes that sounds like it may be the same thing. I think that the Guardian may have put them out. I enjoyed them very much and then went to look for more Locke and Mill, and saw how much there was! I don’t read very fast, sadly. It’ll have to wait till I finish Wikipedia! ;)

  5. Gerald Holtham
    January 9, 2023 at 5:05 pm

    I agree: no need to be too polite about ideologists like Lucas. And a methodologist cannot be blamed for not adumbrating new substantive theories. Clearing intellectual rubbish, however, should not be entirely nihilistic. It is fine to criticize work on the grounds that it fails to follow appropriate methodological standards. When you criticize the standards themselves, however, dismissing best practice pilot trials or any statistical testing, you do have to offer an alternative. Otherwise you are not only clearing rubbish you are closing the road. OK, then please signpost the diversion.

    • yoshinorishiozawa
      January 10, 2023 at 12:22 am

      Indeed! It seems a scientific methodology only works well when a research program is showing a good direction.

      Now we are in the age of economics that requires a science revolution. In such a case, Paul Feyerabend’s scientific anarchism seems much better than putting a straitjacket that was a good criterion in guiding a normal science.

      Abuse of mathematics should be denounced, but it is wrong to narrow too much the possible ways to a breakthrough. In the age of scientific revolution, we should judge by the nature and property of the theory that emerged.

  6. Ikonoclast
    January 12, 2023 at 3:17 am

    I see no reason to polite about philosopher John Locke (1632-1704), at least in relation to his political-economic philosophy. He was in favor of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, dispossessing native peoples and the expropriation of the products of labor for the further propertarian enrichment of already privileged and propertied people. He worked towards those ends on behalf of his patrons and himself.

    His philosophy of human understanding and empiricism I leave aside. I haven’t read enough of him in that arena yet.

  7. Gerald Holtham
    January 14, 2023 at 4:43 pm

    Let me try this point – just one more time, as the great Count Basie used to say.
    If someone criticizes a body of work because it is intellectually slapdash, that’s fair enough and does not oblige him or her to do the work again themselves. If someone criticizes a body of work on the grounds that its entire methodology is wrong, again they are not obliged to come up with alternative work. “You are asking the wrong question” cannot be challenged by saying “so what’s the answer?” It can be challenged though by saying “so what’s the right question?” Similarly if someone says: “your theory is useless because your methods are wrong” the appropriate response is not “what’s the right theory?” but “what’s the right method?” If we’re into methodology, can we move the discussion forward a little to address that?

    • robert r locke
      January 14, 2023 at 10:04 pm

      read Friidrich List, born in 1789, for a cntemporary refutation of Smith by the naionl historical school.

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